“No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy

Books

No Country for Old Men

Anton Chigurh, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul. Your chassis is a beastly monolith, and your mind a labyrinth of synaptic magnetism. Just kidding, Anton Chigurh is a certified freak.

“Freak” might not be the appropriate term here. Freak implies a certain level of discernible humanity, of which Chigurh is void. I remember writing an essay on No Country for Old Men for a film studies class I took in university where I argued that Anton Chigurh isn’t a human being at all, but evil incarnate, and after reading the novel I am inclined to agree with myself.

No Country for Old Men is Cormac McCarthy’s ninth novel, published in 2005, and arguabley his most accessible work. And by accessible, I mean readable.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Cormac McCarthy novels. I toured the outskirts of Mexico with John Grady and Billy Parham in the Border Trilogy, I endured the apocalyptic terrain of The Road, I suffered the butchery and despair of Blood Meridian, I followed the loathsome Lester Ballard through the caves of Sevier County, Tennessee in Child of God. But McCarthy uses a writing style that creates some serious distance between the story and its reader.

Cormac McCarthy’s writing is incredibly terse; every word is precise and deliberate, and every paragraph expertly devised. For me, this creates some of the most satisfying writing I’ve ever read. But I totally get when someone gives up on on of his novels halfway and says “I just couldn’t do it”.

No Country for Old Men is an exception to what I will henceforth refer to as the McCarthy Phenomenon™ whereby readers either a) are engrossed in and obsessed with his books, eternally desperate for his next work, a haiku, a leaked grocery list, anything or b) can’t stand his dry, unpunctuated drivel.

This is McCarthy’s most plot-driven work, featuring blood-drenched shootouts and one of the most foul, nefarious characters ever written: Anton Chigurh.

Oh, Anton. You’re so misunderstood! All you want is for fate to unfold as it should. So what if that means lynching a few vagrants with a cattle gun? Your use of the good old fashioned coin toss to determine the fate of your unsuspecting victims is just, in a way, right?

Ok, ok. Let’s give credit where credit is due: Anton Chigurh is a psychopath. He is a horrifying, odious creature, who kills almost everyone he encounters.

Throughout No Country for Old Men Chigurh is portrayed as remorseless and void of compassion, appearing to be the archetypal unstoppable evil. However, he conducts his life according to a very rigid moral code, one that ensures every man is held accountable for his doings; Chigurh does not kill without purpose.

The scene that takes place between Chigurh and Carla Jean at the end is undoubtedly my favourite. To me, it gives us the truest glimpse at Chigurh’s twisted morality:

“When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That there could have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way.”

Chilling! And somewhat comforting to know there’s a method to his madness.

Another character in No Country for Old Men I’d like to discuss is the sheriff. When I first saw the movie I wasn’t particularly compelled by the sheriff (possibly due to my Tommy Lee Jones aversion), but the literary version of Sherriff Bell was a sweety! (Note that I do not use that word lightly). Traditional, uxorious, reasonable, a true proponent of morality.

Bell hunts Chigurh throughout the story. Luckily for him, he and Chigurh never cross paths. (Even a chance encounter would have resulted in a cattle bolt being lodged somewhere in his frontal lobe.)

Though he doesn’t realize it, Chigurh defeats Bell in the end. Throughout the story Bell struggles to reconcile his traditional ways with the modern world, and finally decides to renounce the title of Sheriff; for him, Chigurh is an emblem of the times, and a sign that modern criminality is unfit for oldtimers like himself (hence the title of the book).

No Country for Old Men was an excellent read. It wasn’t my favourite McCarthy novel, as much as I loved it, but it’s an absolute must-read for McCarthy fans and, in my opinion, the best starting point for McCarthy first timers. Or if you’re just a sucker for books featuring a serious bad boy.

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