Friday, 10 October 2014

Review: No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy

A little while ago, someone suggested I subtract my age from the biblical threescore and ten, work out how many weeks that was, and multiply the resulting figure by my average 'books read per week' score. The diminutive aspect of the answer was intended to make me think more carefully about my reading choices.

It may interest you to know that the same person who suggested this also suggested No Country for Old Men as October's book group selection. October's book group, which I could not attend on account of concussion.

And it took me a week. A whole %*&£$% week. One week closer to death. One whole week's worth of brilliant books I am not going to get to read.

Come, come, Alys, let's be fair.

I don't think I'm the target audience for this book. This is the sort of book that - if I read it for a course - I would detest until I read all sorts of interesting and thoughtful essays upon it, whereupon I would start to see how Cormac McCarthy's writing is oh-so-clever. Then I might see hidden depths and, convincing argument permitting, become a champion of it. Even if that didn't happen, I would begin to appreciate the skill behind it and accept that it was worthy, interesting and not for me.

But I was supposed to be reading it for pleasure and by all the Gods in Asgard it was a slog. I'm sure McCarthy got what he was aiming for with the prose, but reading it was interminable. Perhaps I was supposed to drift into some zen-like state from the accumulation of minutia ("He pulled in at the filling station under the lights and shut off the motor and got the survey map from the glovebox and unfolded it across the seat and sat there studying it.") but mostly my eyes just glazed until we reached the crux of the matter. I have a four-year old with a similar attitude to conjunctions, and it is the only way to survive.

Sadly, when my four year old gets to the sodding point, I have some idea of what she's talking about. In this book, it was mostly to do with guns.

To make it worse, I couldn't tell any of the characters apart. I mean, I know, I know, defamiliarisation and taut, minimalist expression (you see McCarthy occasionally catch himself out in a bit of imagery that he seems immediately to regret) but everyone spoke, thought, acted and engaged with the world in the same way. It felt as though it were a blow by blow account of a movie whose cast consisted solely of Clint Eastwood. Each part played by one man with subtly and intensity which, however faithfully it is recorded, cannot be conveyed by the listing of each taciturn movement.

In fact, I spent most of the novel trying to work out which of the several male characters we were dealing with at any given time. They all did the same sorts of things, anyway; get shot, check into a motel (or trailer park, or tar paper shack, or big ol' ranch), speak in homilies for a bit, perform some rudimentary First Aid on their wounds and then go and threaten, interview or shoot someone else.

Eventually some of them died.

Put like that, it sounds almost like a Beckettian masterpiece, which I might have quite liked. But this ain't Beckett.

I got the feeling that I was supposed to be engaged, that I was supposed to care. Occasionally, a character would have a moment of introspection, or honour code, or of not shooting the dog and I got the impression I was meant to be invested in this, somehow. That I was meant to be reading this as some great tragedy set in the "it just happens" of real life that undermined and contextualised the the Romance of the Old West. It's just, for that to work I would need to care for and  believe in these fatally macho "good ol' boys" and their retiring, saintly, much younger wives.

Like I say, I don't think the target audience was me.

No comments:

Post a Comment