The Counsellor by Cormac McCarthy

I must admit straight away that when I received this book for review from Picador I was unsure whether I would like it at all considering that it was sure to take me completely out of my comfort zone. First thing was that it was a screenplay – I have never read a screenplay before and am sometimes confused whilst reading plays so I didn’t know if this would be an issue with this book. Also, this was written in the synopsis, “As the action crosses the Mexican border, things become darker, more violent, and more sexually disturbing”, and this is definitely something that I wouldn’t usually pick up of my own choice, however I was happy to give it a try.

The screenplay is written by Cormac McCarthy, an author that I have never really read a full novel of. I started ‘The Road’ earlier in the year but I wasn’t in the right mood and I found the writing style to be a bit choppy, but as this is a screenplay, this didn’t bother me too much as choppiness is to be expected in a book which is mostly dialogue.

At just 184 pages, this isn’t a long read at all and although the first extremely graphic sex scene put me off slightly, this book went straight into the plot and I was surprised at how quickly it went. The plot was a little confusing though, obviously because this is something that relies heavily on the visuals of the film, so without that film the book seemed a little difficult to fathom at points, but straight away I was interested in the story, though worried about the “dark violence and disturbing sex scenes” that the back of the book promised.

This is definitely an adult book, older than 18 definitely in my opinion. There are so many themes covered in this, sometimes just in passing but also in detail in some instances. There are strong themes of the drug trade, as that is what the story is largely about, violence, rape, sex and corruption, so I think it is best if reader’s are old enough, and mature enough, to handle that kind of content before picking this book up.

Within the first 30 pages or so, ‘The Counsellor’ began to remind me of ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk which I read earlier in the year. The grittiness and disturbing truth of it all was gripping as the reader experiences before he does the Counsellor’s mistakes and decisions through sheer fear of what might happen and by guessing what will happen further down the line because of the foreshadowing. I found it interesting that Counsellor is never given a first name; it keeps him at a distance from the reader and adds yet another mystery to the story. The writing style was definitely a factor of me not being overly keen on this book, mostly because I found it confusing. I don’t think it was anything to do with Cormac McCarthy’s writing, more just the style of writing that makes it a useful screenplay. I felt that some points lacked the correct punctuation but I can understand how it would be acted so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

I finished this book in just a few hours and although I can’t say I enjoyed it, I can see that other people would, it just isn’t my type of thing. I don’t really like extreme violence, rape or too many disturbing scenes in my reads so I obviously won’t be watching the film but I stand by the idea that this has the same strange tone as ‘Fight Club’ and I would say that if you like that kind of novel then try this! My two stars definitely doesn’t reflect the quality of the book, just my personal tastes and opinions, so I would say still give this a go if you’re interested in high action mysteries with the grittiness of the Mexican drug trade.


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