Sunday, May 4, 2008

No country like this country

For Christmas this year I was given Cormac McCarthy’s book, No Country for Old Men. It came with a handwritten note from Mr M saying, “Read the book THEN see the film”. Hence it is May and, while the DVD sits in a tray in my office, it remains unscreened because I had to toe the line.

It was good that I received this book because McCarthy is one of those authors who I knew I had to read but I had, lazily, put it off. Before tackling No Country then, I decided to start off with the universally famous All the Pretty Horses. I decided I might as well tackle it and the entire Border Trilogy by this author. I read the first two in the trilogy (All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing) and then called it quits. It was a library book and I was getting emails from the good librarians saying other people had reserved this tome. By then I’d had enough McCarthy’s style for a while anyway – his men of few words and the harsh countryside that acts as a major character throughout.

Right from the get go with No Country I was hooked. How does a writer quietly take you by the throat from the first page and not lose his grip for 300 pages more? If I knew that I’d probably be farting through silk right now. McCarthy’s characters never say more than what is required. In his world chatterboxes or nervous space filler personalities don’t seem to exist. The character of Sheriff Bell is so seductive. He carries innate wisdom and seemingly no ego. Never before do I think I’ve seen the love between a husband and wife better expressed than in this novel. It is not done in any cotton candy, Mills & Boon way either. Predictably, it is done in few words but it is done through the simple reflections on the things that really make a long term relationship tick; a deep steadfast understanding and acceptance of another person’s flaws and the knowledge that they make you a better person just by loving you. I tell you, I unequivocally LOVED this book. I’d pop an exclamation mark in there but it would feel like I was insulting everything McCarthy stands for.

At one stage Bell is standing by a guardrail on a bridge looking down below. Someone who knows him drives past and, as a joke, yells out, “Don’t jump Sheriff. She ain’t worth it.” Bell says to himself, “Truth of the matter is, she is.”

There is nowhere near that amount of punctuation provided by McCarthy though. He doesn’t use quotation marks in this book when people speak and a word such as don’t will appear as dont.

And he loves tiny, bullet-like sentences … such as this:

A darkened room. Faint smell of rot. He stook until his eyes were accustomed to the dimness. A parlour.

Anyhoo I have to dash off to my own writing tasks today which are about as boring this Monday as one could possibly imagine. I will use the thought of viewing No Country for Old Men – the movie – as my reward.

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