Summary and book reviews of No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country For Old Men

By Cormac McCarthy

No Country For Old Men
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2005,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2006,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Set in our own time along the bloody frontier between Texas and Mexico, this is Cormac McCarthy's first novel since Cities of the Plain completed his acclaimed, best-selling Border Trilogy.

Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim's burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex–Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

A harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies, No Country for Old Men is a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.

I

I sent one boy to the gas chamber at Huntsville. One and only one. My arrest and my testimony. I went up there and visited with him two or three times. Three times. The last time was the day of his execution. I didn't have to go but I did. I sure didn't want to. He'd killed a fourteen year old girl and I can tell you right now I never did have no great desire to visit with him let alone go to his execution but I done it. The papers said it was a crime of passion and he told me there wasn't no passion to it. He'd been datin' this girl, young as she was. He was nineteen. And he told me that he had been plannin' to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he'd do it again. Said he knew he was goin' to hell. Told it to me out of his own mouth. I don't know what to make of that. I surely don't. I thought I'd never seen a person like that and it got me to wonderin' if maybe he was some...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats's poem "Sailing to Byzantium": "That is No Country for Old Men, the young / In one another's arms, birds in the trees, / —Those dying generations—at their song." The poem also contains the lines: "An aged man is but a paltry thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick, / Unless soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress." Why has McCarthy chosen a line from Yeats' poem for his title? In what ways is No Country for Old Men about aging? Does Sheriff Bell experience any kind of spiritual rejuvenation as he ages?
  2. McCarthy has a distinctive prose style—pared down, direct, ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Most reviewers agree that No Country for Old Men is a "page-turner". They also agree that it's a simpler read than many of his previous books - but they disagree as to whether this is a good thing. The Washington Post reviewer feels that "McCarthy's language is stripped lean and mean here. In places, dialogue carries large sections of the story. His ear for speech, dialect and wordplay remains noteworthy in American letters. His descriptive passages are lucid and visual;" but the New York Times reviewer describes it as hokum and Library Journal conclude that it's a "made-for-television melodrama". Then again, Publishers Weekly conclude that it offers "a profound meditation on the battle between good and evil and the roles choice and chance plan in the shaping of a life", and Booklist gives it a starred review.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (504 words).

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Jeffrey Lent

Rumor has it that this novel came to the publisher at around 600 pages. If that is the case, one can't help but wonder if a truly magnificent work was lost at the cost of pruning with an eye toward the marketplace.

The New York Times - Walter Kirn

Such sinister high hokum might be ridiculous if McCarthy didn't keep it moving faster than the reader can pause to think about it.

Library Journal - Edward B St. John

A made-for-television melodrama filled with guns and muscle cars, this will nonetheless be in demand

Publishers Weekly

While the action of the novel thrills, it's the sensitivity and wisdom of Sheriff Bell that makes the book a profound meditation on the battle between good and evil and the roles choice and chance play in the shaping of a life.

Booklist - Allison Block

Starred Review. McCarthy fans will revel in the author's renderings of the raw landscapes of Mexico and the Southwest and the precarious souls scattered along the border that separates the two. Many are the men here who maim in the name of drugs. "If you killed 'em all," says the local sheriff, "they'd have to build an annex onto hell."

Reader Reviews
steedze

life
The three main characters are all so different, but stubborn in their own way. Whenever you feel tired of one character, the next paragraph will oblige and you will be hooked again. The coldness of the antagonist chills you but in a way you like. ...   Read More

Sue

No Country for Old Men
This book left me shaken, also. I now view locked doors as questionable (you need to read the book to figure out that comment!). That there are people in existence who are so cold and single-minded as the no-named hired killer is frightening.

Kim

Still not sure if how I feel about this one!
I'm giving this book a 5/5 because it meets my criteria for a "good book": The characters are interesting & complex; the writing is excellent; the plot kept me (very) involved; and it's one that will stay with me for a long time. As the Bookbrowse...   Read More

Thea

Beauty & Destruction
The first page of this book will hook you, it is so beautifully written (as is the rest of the story). The story does leave you shaken. It is amazing that a story written so eloquently could be so brutal. You feel the brutality more so because it...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island in 1933 and spent most of his childhood near Knoxville, Tennessee. He served in the U.S. Air Force and later studied at the University of Tennessee. In 1976 he moved to El Paso, Texas, where he lives today.

McCarthy's fiction parallels his movement from the Southeast to the West—the first four novels being set in Tennessee, and his later novels set in the Southwest and Mexico. The Orchard Keeper (1965) won the Faulkner Award for a first novel; it was followed by ...

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