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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No Country for Old Men

I don't have a lot of experience with reading a book after I've already seen the movie. I hope that doesn't sound too much like bragging, the truth is that I just don't see too many movies (despite a recent surge in my trips to the theater.) I've always wondered whether I generally liked the books more solely because I had seen them first.

I saw the Coen's No Country for Old Men last year and despite initially being reluctant to accept the film's ending, came to consider a good movie and probably deserving of the Best Picture over There Will Be Blood. I didn't have any real interest in reading the book, but after enjoying The Road this summer, I decided to look into Cormac McCarthy some more. (Unfortunately, my first attempt was Suttree, a book which could not be more different in style than The Road, however, my uncle gave me his copy of No Country, so I gave it a shot.)

My first impression of the novel was that it read for like a shooting script for a movie than any other book I'd ever read. The sentences were like stage directions, especially in scenes where Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin's character in the movie) is hiding the money or trying to figure out his escape. McCarthy's narration in these scenes is interesting in that there's very little attention to the thoughts of either Moss or Chigurh (Javier Bardem). The problem with these passages is that they are much more interesting on screen, because it can be annoying to read so many short sentences about someone using a screwdriver to open up the vent in a hotel room. And sometimes you get bored and lose track of what's going on, especially since McCarthy never explains what his characters are thinking.

Interspersed with the chase scenes are internal monologues delivered by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). In the book, Bell is rather a stereotypical southern sheriff character, with a lot of plain-spoken idioms and an annoying habit of using "a" instead of "an". At times I thought McCarthy let Sheriff Bell devolve into a Foghorn Leghorn caricature, but I appreciated the character's digressions on his belief that the world is indeed getting worse. I don't know if I've read many books featuring characters with that viewpoint.

McCarthy's prose is spare and almost entirely devoid of adornment. The moments when he does try to be a "writer" instead of a storyteller are jarring though. There were more of these in The Road than here, and I suspect they are a hallmark of his earlier works, like the aforementioned Suttree. I found his use of punctuation annoying (he only uses apostrophes when it would be too confusing not to, so she'd uses one but didnt does not) but this is a minor concern.

The action moves fast and is very gripping, which is a rather remarkable achievement when you consider that I was pretty confident that I knew how everything turned out. I'll give it an 8 out of 10.

Next? Probably not Suttree (although I will have to look into more of McCarthy's work.) I'd like to get to a Barnes & Noble to use a gift card but I've got so much here I feel bad buying new books. I still have Bleak House, Howard's End, the second Charlie Chan mystery, Light in August, and quite a few other books on my shelf.

1 comment:

  1. Can't figure out how to edit this for some reason, but I want to state that I liked the book just a little less than the movie, but I'm not sure if this is because of the order in which I encountered them.