Sunday, 14 February 2010

#13 No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (Picador)

Yes, I've seen the film. And regardless of its best picture Oscar in 2007, the book is better.

Cormac McCarthy is regularly described as one of the Great Living American Novelists, and with lots of publicity currently about another of his books which has been made into a film, The Road, I thought it was time to tackle an earlier work, albeit only dating back to 2005.

I wish I hadn’t seen the film - which was certainly a fine piece of work (even though I am no fan of the Coen brothers, who were the directors) - first, though. It was hard to get my recollections of the visual experience out of my head as I read, especially as - from what I remember - the film doesn't really bring much of anything new to the table.

The tale is a good one, charting how a ex-Vietnam vet finds a suitcase full of money at the scene of a drug deal gone wrong, and is then forced to try to evade the efforts of a particularly diligent and memorable hitman keen to recover what he has taken.

As a film, it works as an effective thriller, but despite the presence of a world-weary Tommy Lee Jones in the role of a sheriff investigating events, it wasn't until I read the book that the broader theme, referred to in the title (from a poem by Yeats), properly came across. For while it's a compelling tale, there is a definite and important message about the changing nature of society and consequences of progress.

I must also mention the punctuation. After completing the book, I looked up McCarthy and apparently he's well known for his sparing use of punctuation, and quotation marks in particular. I must admit that this is anathema to me (and this is someone who had read Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation), but I was surprised by how quickly I adapted and it was certainly a novel experience. Which neatly sums up the point of this entire enterprise…

So, rating time:

#13 No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (Picador) - 7/10

Next up: A Certain Chemistry, by Mil Millington (Hodder and Stoughton)

  • Click here for the full list of books so far, and their rating
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