The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Tag Archives: Cormac McCarthy

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Modern crime fiction is often cast off as being, for one reason or another, dross, it is the scummy underbelly of literature, read by lonely men on the train to work. Predictable for the first half, some ‘twists’ which aren’t as clever as they’d like to think, a moderately acceptable style of writing and usually based around around a Scottish police officer with a drinking problem, so unsurprisingly are never highly praised or generously given awards, because, well, they don’t deserve them. However, in my opinion, modern crime fiction is great, because it’s either really crap or exceptionally good, and usually all the latter takes is an ingenious, creative novelist willing to be striking and emigrate from the crime fiction mould. Yep, that’s all it takes. That shopping list of qualities is basically based on Cormac McCarthy, because, as evident from No Country For Old Men, he is one of the greatest modern American crime authors. He is, according to my incredibly irrelevant opinions, one of the best American Novelists ever in any context anyway, No Country … is now one of a number of his novels which I truly consider to be brilliant literature.

Men in great crime novels are always poor decision makers, and Llewellyn Moss is a prime example of this. I doubt I am not the only person who would avoid taking a large case of money I found in the centre of what was clearly a large drug deal gone drastically wrong, day old clots resting between the bundles of notes, burly Mexicans with holes through their foreheads laying next to it and a hell of a lot of evidence to suggest that someone who isn’t exactly Elmo would go a long way to retain his $2,000,000. This plot perfectly leads the book into becoming gritty and noir, somehow making Texas seem like even more of a dingy hellhole (apologies to all in Texas). The understated and integrated nature of the narrative, speech and imagery also further builds this brilliantly dark portrait of American rage and destruction, showing the chilling weakness and stupidity of man, and immense evil that lurks in the backdrop. If there is a character who has redeemable qualities then don’t expect them to live very long, because McCarthy makes it vigorously clear that in the society of this narrative, and a lot of societies generally, in America and elsewhere, brutality and lack of fear is what is ultimately victorious. A serious, dramatic, bloody book which is an utterly enthralling read, if not exactly a quick, lay back in your deckchair sort of book. Read it at home with plenty of time on your hands, because, for once this isn’t throw-away crime or western fiction but effortlessly deep and consuming. Please read and enjoy, regards 🙂

Man and boy

One of my favourite films of all time is ‘No Country For Old Men’, but not only is it is great watch but also a terrific book. This led to me explore other books by the author, Cormac McCarthy, which caused me to read ‘The Road’; I had already known of its pedigree, as a book constantly mentioned on all literary websites, given multiple awards and therefore made it seem obvious that it would be a good book. However now I have read it, it would seem almost offensive to call it ‘good’. It is a beautifully harrowing story, showing the transformation of civilization and emotions when plunged into this frighteningly realistic, post-apocalyptic future. McCarthy paints a stunning image of the barren landscape and America’s future; however, drained of all colour and vibrancy, leaving only vivid memories of any natural life and humanity. The few humans that do exist are still drained of all life and vitality, an “ashen effigy” of their former selves walking through the dense of soot and snow in search of warmth.

Almost everyone is dead, ironically giving a certain humanity to the novel, and particularly to the man and his attempts to shelter his son. The whole way through the book, The Man and The Boy are unnamed, highlighting how nothing is important, not even names, in this hopeless, uncivilized world except for survival. Survival is therefore paramount to the emotions and actions by The Man, particularly where he shoots a barbaric figure trying to murder his son; it is harrowing and disturbing how such vulgar and grotesque actions become commonplace, especially cannibalism. McCarthy plods through the tense yet slow narrative, constantly increasing the fear and desperation running through the Man’s veins, not just his fear of starvation, rape and cannibalism, but he is also terrified for his son, which was further increased by being left by his wife, due to her immense fear of being attacked and preyed upon. The child is used by McCarthy to draw parallels with the reader, as the unaware and naive boy asks constant questions, the reader is intrigued by the same questions as we have the same level of ambiguity towards the apocalypse.

This makes me appreciate the humility and humanity built into modern society, rather than the barbaric nature of the characters here; parallels can be drawn with the recent London riots, as this novel highlights the break-down of society and the actions that come with it. Destructive actions come from anger and frustration, but also from fear, where the rioting is making a statement it shows the barbaric nature within people, however McCarthy shows the opposite being that the Man has every reason to be monstrous  and destructive yet the humanity of his relationship with his son stops him from doing that. Please read this brutally astonishing masterpiece. Regards 🙂