‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

When I first picked up Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, I did what I always do – tweeted it (#reading). Mistake. I had three people immediately tweet back with comments along the lines of “That’s a sure way to ruin 2012” and “Got the Prozac ready?” and “Don’t do it. I was miserable and confused for weeks.”

So I read with a sense of detachment – it’s a shame, I suspect I would have got so much more out of the book if I’d allowed myself to invest in the characters.

The Road tells the story of an unnamed man and his young son, making their way across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape. The air is filled with ash, no plants or animals remain, ghost towns and corpses litter the land. The few humans who are still alive resort to scavenging, cannibalism and thieving to survive.

I read with a sense of fear and dread – every bend in the road promised danger.

“If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it.”

At the same time, there were small reprieves – fresh water from a hidden well, a can of Coke left in a vending machine, withered apples in a decaying orchard.

McCarthy’s simple language heightens the horror – sifting through the detritus of homes long since ransacked, an infant corpse roasting over a fire, hiding in the woods. Your heart breaks for the boy whose sense of compassion is shown a number of times. Your heart breaks for the father who you know is also compassionate but is burying those feelings deep inside in order to survive.

The part of this story that will stay with me for many years to come happens at the beginning of the book – the boy’s mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, gave up hope and committed suicide, despite the father’s pleas. This is told as one of the few flash-backs –

“…I can’t help you. They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I dont dream at all. You say you cant? Then dont do it…..You talk about taking a stand but there is no stand to take. My heart was ripped out of me the night he was born so dont ask for sorrow now.”

Crumbs, it ranks up there with Sophie’s Choice.

Stay in the zone and read The Road with a dry crust of bread (and know that bread is a real luxury).

3/5 (I suspect it would have been a four had I not been anticipating some unimaginable horror). And I can’t (cant) ignore the lack of apostrophes – it did annoy me!

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One response

  1. McCarthy deliberately (and consistently, at least) leaves out punctuation. I finished All the Pretty Horses only because I grew up in Mexico and wanted to read that part of revolutionary Mexico, but found it a continuous slap in the face that standard marks for dialogue weren’t used. It wasn’t THAT good a story. I takes me OUT of the story when authors (and their publishers!) do things like that. I can’t afford the energy for the fight with my brain.

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