by Cormac McCarthy
Published by Vintage
Published in 2008 (reprint edition)
This book was given to me by my dear husband and I am reviewing it of my own accord.
What does the end of the world look like? When you let your thoughts wander into the darkest recesses of your imagination, do you ever wonder what will become of this planet? Who will survive and how? Would you fight until the end or quietly end it all?
Previously, post-apocalyptic literature has depicted a world brought to its knees by nuclear war but more recent offerings of this genre have seen the more recent concerns of environmental demise brought to the fore.* The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a stunning example of this recent shift of our collective fears. It follows the story of a man and his son as they follow a road heading south in a post-apocalyptic America. Very little is offered by way of explanation as to exactly what has happened to the world, but the reader soon learns that civilization as we all know it now is gone, mobs roam the wilderness raping and pillaging other survivors and each day is a struggle against the cold and starvation.
Although the characters of the father and child have no names and their dialogue is sparse, the warmth of their relationship is a stark contrast to the relentless nature of their existence. The father's only concern is for the boy's safety and sees him as a beacon of hope - "If he is not the word of God then God never spoke" - that motivates him to carry on, one foot in front of the other through what can only be described as a mind-numbingly depressive landscape. He teaches the boy that they are the "good guys" who are "carrying the fire" although at times his actions must necessarily err on the side of survival rather than ethics. The character of the boy is truly a wonder. He surely must be traumatized beyond all reason yet his innocence and wish to help others remains - he doesn't mind going without food so they might share their limited food with others.
The imagery in this novel is stunning. The description of the woods, the abandoned and looted houses and worst of all, the marauding mobs was so vivid and petrifying that a few days after finishing the novel I can close my eyes and still see it. The horror is burned onto your mind's eye. The sheer desolation and inconceivable nothingness (cows was extinct! Cows!!) is a sharp reminder to all of us of what may happen if we don't care more for our planet.
Basically, this novel is just so overwhelming and so utterly absorbing that words cannot do it justice. It is something you simply have to read and experience for yourself. I spent 48 hours with this book basically glued to my hand experiencing a full range of emotions from despair to terror to hope to grief. The recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black award for fiction, this is a brilliant piece of contemporary literature that will, in my opinion, become a classic. That is, if the planet lasts long enough.
*An article on the Guardian books blog looks at this recent trend in more detail here.