The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I had heard a lot about this novel before I actually got around to reading it. It first took my notice when they released copies after the film and the only reason I took notice was because I instantly recognised the rugged features of Viggo Mortensen on the cover. Whilst at my boyfriends, I spotted this slim blue book squashed between his other darker-coloured volumes and was startled I had never noticed its presence before. He was in the loo and took quite a while but in that time I had already consumed a fair few pages; the words couldn’t rush into my brain fast enough. He let me borrow it and I managed to read it in just two days – I’d have done it faster if I didn’t have coursework and lectures to go to. It’s been quite some time since I’ve encountered a book which I have literally devoured because I’ve enjoyed it so much so this was a real treat.
A man and his son are travelling across the charred ruins of America, heading south, to the coast. All they have is clothes more befitting of being called rags on their back and a cart with a meagre amount of food which they have scavenged. The land is bleak, chocked in ash and their only protection is a gun with three bullets. Every step is a struggle, danger could be around any corner and they are constantly in a desperate search for food when everything has already been plundered. The context of why America has suffered from some apocalyptic event is never explained. Nor does it need to be. The story follows the hardship and pure survival of a father and his undying, unyielding love for his son.
I am loathe to comment too much on the plot of this novel as I believe it works best when you read it knowing little. Everything is a surprise to the point where it starts to feel like you’re there with them, living, enduring, experiencing and very few novels can do that. The boy is old beyond his years and the man is so committed to his child.
This book is positively harrowing. Poignant. Chilling. Coming away from it is like emerging from a storm unscathed; mind-blowing. The simplest most mundane of tasks are described in such detail and yet doesn’t let the reader succumb to boredom and sometimes McCarthy’s descriptions are positively stunning; hyperbole blended with perfect metaphors and similies, so well written that you have to permit yourself to read the paragraphs again and again just to ensure you have taken in every little bit of imagery. You truly feel for the man and the boy – fictional characters though they may be, you’re hanging off every word. Hoping. When they’re starving you can feel it, like you’re living their experience. When they scavenge, you’re terrified of encountering danger. When they’re cold, you want them to be warm.
Here is a random snippet which particularly captivated me:
‘…cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunnelled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them as silently as eyes’
Everything about this novel is sobering. A clean-cut, raw and realistic view of human nature; completely convincing, chilling and so unbelievably touching. The detail McCarthy puts into even simple things makes every experience tangible, beautiful.
One thing I found interesting about this novel was the curious lack of punctuation. There are few, if any commas and none of the speech uses speech marks; instead, conversations occur in sentences, a simple back and forth where each character has a sentence and the response is below it. This is oddly fitting considering it’s such a bleak novel and it seems to conform to the theme of minimalism which is quite effective but frustrating when you try to read it aloud.
I would very highly recommend this to anyone seeking something different, something that you won’t be able to put down – why this book hasn’t received more fame is unclear but this is the beautifully beating heart of modern literature. And it is marvellous.
- The Road (2009) directed by John Hillcoat (anutshellreview.wordpress.com)
- Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (randombookmuses.com)