He did close his eyes. He closed his eyes and he turned his head and he raised one hand to fend away what could not be fended away. Chigurh shot him in the face. everything that Wells had ever known or thought or loved drained slowly down the wall behind him. His mother's face, his First Communion, women he had known. the faces of men as they died on their knees before him. The body of a child dead in a road-side ravine in another country. He lay headless on the bed with his arms outflung, most of this right hand missing. Chigurh rose and picked the empty casing off the rug and blew into it and put it in his pocket and looked at this watch. The new day was still a minute away.I actually didn't mean to read Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men next, especially not as I have half a dozen other books on the go. But I bought it in Singapore and then thought I'd just glance through a page or two when I was at the airport.
And then the damn thing wouldn't let go of me.
It was all very well for Kaykay to laugh at me the other night about the book being so not "my thing", being very much a blokes book, being a modern day western, being so unremittingly violent and all that.
But this book is excellent.
Any synopsis of the plot is going to make the book look like pulp fiction. But what makes the book absolutely remarkable is the terse, spare writing, the crisp dialogue and the way that each page crackles with tension. It's so cinematographic that I can't think that the Coen brothers had to do too much work to bring it to the screen. (Although they seem to have done a pretty good job!) :
Then there's the depth of characterisation, and the deeper questions about free will versus determinism, and the nature of good and evil.
Anton Moss, a welder and ex-Vietnam vet, is out hunting antelope in the arid scrub near Rio Grande when he stumbles into the aftermath of a gun battle in which the members of a drug convey have been slaughtered. And then he finds a suitcase with a cool $2.4 million inside.
Soon he is a fugitive fleeing from the hired gun, sent to retrieve the money, an icy-cold psychopath called Anton Chigurh (the name rhymes with "Sugar" ironically) who has a perverted sense of moral justice, a real angel of death who models himself on God. Chigurh decides the fate of his victims with a flick of a coin and calmly dispatches them with a stungun of the sort used in slaughter houses.
And then there's Bell, a small town sheriff struggling to do the duty he is entrusted with in a world that seems to be changing steadily for the worse. He is also doing his best to track Moss down before it's too late. The narrative of the novel alternates between omniscience and chapters where Bell is given free-reign to talk about his own history and philosophy of life in monologues that read like something from Studs Terkal's classic oral histories. Bell is a good man but he doesn't really have his finger on why the world is going to hell in a hand basket, even though he can see that it is.
To complicate matters, a special forces agent employed by a powerful cartel is also hot on Moss' trail. (This is the guy who meets his sticky end in the extract above!) And there's Moss' young wife, who also needs to do a runner with her dying mother to avoid being picked off by Chigurh.
Although The Road was probably the most powerful novel I've read this year, I think this novel is far better from the technical point of view. And although McCarthy's use of punctuation is every bit as eccentric here, it seems to fit with the way the Texan dialect is written and doesn't grate as it does in The Road. (I did though sometimes get lost in dialogues, since there is no indication of who is speaking.) And thankfully, there are fewer choppy sentence fragments of the kind that had me gritting my teeth.
I guess I'll be reading backwards through some of those earlier novels now.
A very good review of the book on the Citypaper website.