Book review: No Country for Old Men

One from the Mount TBR challenge! I got No Country for Old Men from Read It Swap It in July 2011, having seen (several times) and LOVED the film adaptation. I was put off from reading this for a while though, having read another of Cormac McCarty’s books (Suttree) in the meantime, for book club, and found it really hard work.

I’m glad I finally got around to reading this though, as I did really enjoy it. Although it is still hard work at times (McCarthy’s abhorrence of punctuation and other dialogue markers doesn’t make it easier, either!), it’s not nearly as heavy going as Suttree – I haven’t read any more of McCarthy’s books, but I’m lead to believe that not many of them are as hard to read as that one was!

The one thing I struggled with a bit though was separating out in my mind this book from the film adaptation. The Coen brothers have been almost slavishly faithful to the source material – certain scenes are just plucked from the book verbatim. I commented to my other half when I was a couple of chapters in that it wouldn’t have surprised me to find out that the Coens hadn’t bothered with a screenplay at all, but had just given a copy of this book to the whole cast!

So I’m finding this a difficult book to review. I really enjoyed it, but would I have done if I hadn’t already seen the film? Would I even have followed this if not for the film? I really don’t know.

This book is incredibly bleak – which I like, but if you prefer your fiction a little cheerier then I would say avoid! The story is simple enough: everyman Llewlyn Moss stumbles across the scene of a drugs deal gone wrong, and takes a briefcase filled with money. From that point, he is pursued relentlessly by amoral hitman Chigurh (a genuinely terrifying character – sorry to keep harping on about the film but Javier Bardem was absolutely perfectly cast here!). Llewelyn’s story is interweaved with that of Wells, the sheriff who is always one step behind Chigurgh. Wells is the moral heart of the novel, but ultimately shown to be powerless.

It’s not a happy story, and it doesn’t end well – indeed, it’s fairly clear very early on that it can’t end well. I liked the sense of inevitability throughout it: I couldn’t help rooting for Llewelyn, even though I knew it was futile. The writing is impressive, if occasionally a little hard to follow. I usually have little patience for novels where the dialogue is written in vernacular, but McCarthy does this so well that I actually stopped noticing – it was just what the characters sounded like.

I’ve decided not to give this one a rating, because while I think I loved it, I can’t decide whether I’m judging it on its own merits or that of the film adaptation. I’m genuinely really struggling to separate the two. Very odd – have never had this experience with reading a book having previously watched the film!

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has read this but not seen the film, or read the book first. What did you make of it?

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  1. I’ve read this book and not seen the movie. I tend to do that with books that are very violent in nature. It’s easier to deal when it is in words, rather than seeing people splattered on screen. I liked this book but it was hard to read. That said, I think Chigurh might have been better translated on screen as I didn’t think too much about his character in the book at all.

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