Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Road

Cormac McCarthy The Road (2006)
It's been a while since a book lived up to its hype for me, including even just the recommendation of friends as hype in this instance; but The Road turns out to be even better than promised. It doesn't really have much of a story, just some guy and his boy trudging through a post-apocalyptic wasteland towards some ambiguous possibility of a better life which almost certainly won't happen. The blurb on the back cover promises it to be a tale of love - man and child looking after each other under dreadful conditions - which it sort of is, although the description is unfortunately twee and a little misleading.

The nature of whatever has destroyed the planet is never discussed and probably doesn't matter. Our two survivors get by on what canned goods they can salvage in a world of grey skies, ash, snow, and death - nothing is left growing, and there don't seem to be any animals, and occasionally we are afforded a thoroughly stomach churning glimpse of how other survivors are getting by; and this all serves as dramatic contrast to two people actually trying to keep each other alive. It's simple, but it's really all you need given that this is one of the most depressing and harrowing things I've read in a while, albeit in a good way, sort of.

Weirdly, all the negative criticism I've seen of The Road seems to fixate on how it is written. McCarthy eschews chapters, most contractions, and even conventional sentence structure to yield something which reads very much like an extended poem, or at least a novel rendered as such. The form of the narrative serves to concentrate all actions within the present. There is no longer a future, nor any real past, just cold, brutal reality. The apocalypse has come and gone - and as such no longer matters - and the future will probably be worse, so all that is left is to move forward and hope that it won't be. I suppose it might be argued that this harks back to the earliest literature, things like Beowulf which was similarly composed as epic poetry and might even be seen as casting its characters into roughly the same hostile territory. Whatever the case, I don't think The Road would have worked so well as regular prose.


  1. I thought The Road was pretty good too although I thought the father and the son had a little bit too much luck on their side given their situation and it was definitely 'literature' rather than just telling a story.
    A couple of related recommendations which are worth checking out. Firstly 'The Death of Grass' by John Christopher (who was a slightly nastier, pulpier contemporary of John Wyndham) is a sort of prequel and well worth a read, (apparently it's taught in US literature classes so it's likely this may have served as a partial inspiration for McCarthy's book). I'd also recommend Crossed by Garth Ennis which addresses similar issues using a zombie apocalypse. I know it sounds trashy but I thought it was incredibly powerful and tackles some of the issues The Road ducks out of. (That's only the original story however, most of the subsequent follow up volumes are pretty rubbish)

  2. Just read that back and realised I was maybe being a bit obtuse. What I liked about Crossed was that it touched on the question of how and why people continue the struggle to survive when there's nothing obvious worth surviving for. Should probably also point out that some people think it's the most disgusting thing they've ever read so it's not for everyone...

    1. Yes, the universe seems to have been telling me to read The Death of Grass for at least the past two years - just haven't yet encountered a copy, although I've heard only good things about it. I might just go ahead and get one off Amazon, having more or less exhausted the list of things I always meant to read. I'll probably pass on the other one though. I've tended to avoid Garth Ennis as I've found some of his things very irritating, actually most of it since those strips in Crisis.

  3. You're reviewing some good stuff here of late - A Tale Of Two Cities, Tarzan Of The Apes, The Road, with even mention of Konstruktivists. Excellent reviews as well. You're on a roll.