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Thursday, 2 November 2006

No Country For Old Men...

Just finished Cormac McCarthy's neo-Western thriller No Country for Old Men. There's no doubting the brilliance of the writing - although the clipped, transparent Hemingway-esque prose is almost laconic to the point of satire, and the carnage meted out by and pursuing the book's remorseless, chain-killing anti-hero, Chigurh (pron. Sugar) is at times a little OTT. Yet the novel offers a fascinating insight into the mindset of the deep South; one that, though many of us couldn't be more at odds with it, we can't in the current climate ignore and may (however reluctantly) need at least to understand.

There's good stuff here, if 'liberal with a small L' readers can get beyond some of their more knee-jerk reactions to the core redneck values - hippies, folks with green hair and bones through their noses and abortion don't seem to go down too good with the good ol' boys and, when not anxiously waiting for their husbands to return from work, the women folk tend to be rustling up something tasty on the range that will probably go uneaten when their husband retaurns home late. But then, just as you're starting to picture Dubya, cowboy booted feet up on the porch, grinning as he mouths the words of McCarthy's short, unfussy sentences that his index finger is skimming along, you're pulled up sharp. There's a beautiful meditation on inter-generational decline that Macca just allows to hang there, like an unpleasant smell that someone, at some point is going to have to do something about cleaning up. Contemplating the alarming number of children in the US being brought up by their grandparents because their parents don't want to bring them up, Sherrif Bell asks, what will happen to those children's kids' offspring if neither they nor their own parents want to bring *them* up themselves.

The narrative is gripping and McCarthy evokes the John Ford scenery of the West beautifully. But it's the closing section, a sort of exended mediattion on the decline of the old West, that's most satisfying (and pertinent). This country can kill you in a heartbeat, but we still love it, McCarthy suggests at one point and it's as if his religious faith and patriotism have fused and both are being tested to the hilt by the country and its violent history and present. And does this ring any bells:

His eyes looked old. He said: People will tell you it was Vietnam brought this country to its knees. But I never believed that. It was already in bad shape. Vietnam was just the icin on the cake.. We didn't have nothin to give em to take over there. If we'd sent em without rifles I don't know as they'd of been all that worse off. You cant go to war without God. I dont know what is goin to happen when the next one comes. I surely dont

We're just beginning to find out, I fear.

There's a not-too glowing review (and in places inaccurate) here that underscores the book's more reactionary aspects

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  1. and only £3.99 on Amazon UK at the moment, Swipesters. Having just finished "Half Blood Prince" with my 9 y.o. daughter I need some literary infusion and this could be just the ticket. Thanks Bob!

  2. Brilliant review Bobster! I might take up Stray's offer on Amazon!

  3. Ah yes 'simpler times' when men were men, horses were horses and women stayed in the goddam kitchen. I's not that cut and dried. I'll give it a try Robert

  4. However, he added, the hippies were looking for 'simpler times' too. Perhaps the difference was that they didn't see nature as hostile.

  5. Thank you!
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  6. Thank you for the review. I was on the fence on this but between your review and Stray's advice with Amazon, I'm sold!