Book Review: No Country For Old Men

After being completely blown away by The Road, I decided that I should add another Cormac McCarthy title to my reading list. So several weeks ago, while perusing row upon row of books at Borders, I picked out a copy of No Country For Old Men. This should be good, I thought. And it was.

I deeply admire McCarthy’s writing style. He has a way with words that is nothing short of breathtaking. In The Road, he relied heavily on description, and successfully created the most realistic post-apocalyptic atmosphere I’ve ever encountered in a novel. But his approach in No Country For Old Men is quite different. In this case, his writing has the ferocious, unrelenting force of an incredibly intense screenplay. As one critic noted, the book cuts “from one frightening, violent set piece to another with cinematic economy and precision”.

When a good old boy named Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a bloody crime scene with $2 million and a load of heroin, in the middle of a Texas desert, he takes the cash. He’s forced to flee his home, however, when Anton Chigurh – a cold-blooded, methodical killer – comes looking for it, with sheriff Ed Tom Bell hot on his trail. As Moss tries to evade Chigurh, he ends up unleashing a violent chain of events that not even the law can contain.

Essentially, No Country For Old Men is about a good guy, a bad guy, and a guy who’s in between…

Forty-five-year-old lawman Ed Tom Bell is a thoughtful, sympathetic character, and it’s mainly his personal reflections that make the book so powerful. He’s the sheriff of a small Texas town, and he struggles to deal with the amorality . Violence and depravity have so affected everything that he believes “we’re looking at something we really ain’t even seen before.”

The villain, Chigurh, is evil – frighteningly evil. There’s really no other way to describe him. He kills, and he does it efficiently and remorselessly. A trail of bodies follows him wherever he goes. And that’s his way of life.

Then there’s Lewellyn Moss – he’s the guy in-between. Initially, he thinks he can take money that doesn’t belong to him, and get away with it.  But he’s woefully mistaken, and when he realizes it, he embarks on a desperate attempt to escape the consequences.

On the one hand, No Country For Old Men is a riveting thriller that hurtles forward at a burning pace. But it’s also a morality play, dishing out a brutal, thought-provoking picture of life without Christ, the effects of greed and violence, and showing how one seemingly insignificant sin can lead to unimaginable consequences. “… be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23) The story also leads one to consider the futileness of human effort alone in the battle against sin. Man’s strength is not sufficient, and will ultimately fail, no matter how smart, fast, or cunning you think you are. Only in Christ can one ultimately prevail against evil. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Some people have labeled this book as hopeless and unredeeming. I disagree. And here’s why:

The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. As the sayin goes. Which I reckon some would take as meanin the truth cant compete. But I dont believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it dont change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt… I’m sure they’s people would disagree with that. Quite a few, in fact. But I never could find out what any of them did believe.

If that’s not hopeful and redeeming, we must not be reading the same thing.

There is one thing I take issue with, and that is McCarthy’s representation of God. The God of this book is hardly the God of holy Scripture. Instead of a loving, all-wise, all-powerful God actively involved in the affairs of men, we see an impotent deity. Consider this conversation:

Do you expect God knows what’s happenin?
I expect he does.
You think he can stop it?
No I don’t.

Bearing this point in mind, I do think the book deserves to be read. It will stick with you, and give you plenty to chew on long after you’ve turned the final page. I highly recommend it, with the caveat that it certainly isn’t for readers younger than 16. No Country is a disturbing book, with quite a bit of graphic, bloody violence and a fair amount of language.

Not light reading, by any means. But worthwhile reading, nonetheless.

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19 thoughts on “Book Review: No Country For Old Men”

  1. Hmm, I will have to add it to my list of books to read. Nice post, Scribe. :)
    Have you read any books by Randy Alcorn? He is one you have to read with a grain of salt but are excellent books to read.

    1. Thank you, Rebecca!

      I’ve read Alcorn’s Deception, twice actually. And while I don’t agree with every single thing in it, I still think it’s a superb read. Intelligent story, plenty of tension and mystery, and all from a Christian worldview. Any other Alcorn titles you’d recommend?

      I appreciate your comment!

      1. He has two others in the series. One is Deadline, and the other is Dominion. I am just reading them, but Safely Home is awesome. It is about the underground church in China, and a man who has what the world says is “everything”. :D What was one of the books you would re-read from last year?

        1. I’ll have to check those two out. And I actually have Safely Home, but haven’t read it yet. But never fear… thanks to your enthusiastic recommendation, it’s definitely going on my reading list for this year! :)

          Hmmm. Tough question. I’d like to re-read most of the books I read last year, but the ones I can think of off the top of my head are:

          Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
          The Road by Cormac McCarthy
          America Alone by Mark Steyn
          The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
          The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
          The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
          Thoughts For Young Men by J.C. Ryle

          There are more, but I just can’t thik of them at the moment! :)

    1. I think you’ll enjoy The Road. It’s an amazing book. :)

      I have seen the Coen brother’s film adaption of No Country For Old Men. It’s good, and follows the book very accurately for the most part, but it is still not as rich (or hopeful) as McCarthy’s novel. I recommend reading the book first and then checking the movie out. You’ll get a whole lot more out of it.

  2. I read this book after I saw the movie, and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a movie that almost exactly follows the book as written. You mentioned that the book is written like a screenplay, so maybe that’s why the movie followed it so closely. Powerful book. It’s the first of McCarthy’s that I’ve read, and he certainly has a unique writing style.

    1. Yes, the movie did a surprisingly good job of following the book; and the unique, screenplay-like way in which the book was written probably had a lot to do with it.

      I’m hoping to check out McCarthy’s Blood Meridian sometime this year…

      Thanks for dropping by!

  3. This doesn’t sound like something I’d like, but I appreciate your well written and revealing review (revealing in the right way, I mean). Have you read anything by Athol Dickson? I think you might like his stuff.

    1. Thanks, Amy. I appreciate your encouragement! :)

      I haven’t read anything by Athol Dickson, but I’ve been hearing a lot about him lately. I’m beginning to think I should add him to my reading list. Any Dickson books that you would recommend in particular?

      1. I’ve read and reviewed three of his books. Here are links to my reviews:

        http://www.hopeisthewordblog.com/2009/03/18/they-shall-see-god-by-athol-dickson/

        http://www.hopeisthewordblog.com/2009/04/01/every-hidden-thing-by-athol-dickson/

        http://www.hopeisthewordblog.com/2009/07/07/river-rising-by-athol-dickson/

        I think I liked them all equally well, although the second one I reviewed (Every Hidden Thing) is a part of a series. As I noted in my review, I don’t think my unfamiliarity with the series hurt my understanding of the book, though.

        I think you’ll enjoy his stuff!

  4. Ink Slinger, almost thou persuadest me to read this book (by virtue of your beautifully well-written review), but I think I’ll pass. I can handle some evil and violence, especially if it’s redemptive, but for some reason this one just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m loving your blog and your reviews, though–as I’ve said before, I would love to see you try your hand at some fiction yourself; I’ll be that would be some good stuff!

    1. Thank you, Cindy. :) Your encouragement is very much appreciated!

      I’ve had a story in the works for awhile now… but its a work in progress, and I doubt it’ll be done for some time. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. :)

  5. All I have to say is Blood Meridian is the better, more engrossing read. I think it is also superior to the Road, which, though containing a new effect for McCarthy (the endearing father and son relationship), has none of the energy that Blood Meridian seems to sustain on every page. Stylistically, Blood Meridian is quite different from these later two works, in which we find descriptionary prose almost as boiled down as his dialogue usually is.

    Also, why should good fiction necessarily be redeeming? The magnitude of CHrist’s redemption can only be understood through a thorough understanding of sin and depravity. Sometimes aesthetic achievements are only going to be painted in the darker shades, in order to convey those darker sides of life. Is there really much of a redemption at the end of Ecclesiastes? There is certainly no redemption in its middle portions, where the resurrection is denied and the godly life deemed a pointless frustation.

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