Friday, 29 January 2010

The Road: Review

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
Published by Vintage
Published in 2008 (reprint edition)
ISBN: 0307455297

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


  1. I've read only one Cormac McCarthy book. His language is amazing. I've been meaning to read this since it came out. I think I'll go put it on hold at the library.

  2. It's weird how, while I agree with absolutely everything you said (especially about the beauty and intensity of the imagery) about this book, my final reaction was that I found it boring. And yours was that you loved it
    I guess the problem is that I didn't find it absorbing, and you did.
    Anyhow, this was a fabulous review! :-)

  3. You're right - absolutely brilliant book! I love your point about how the warmth of the Boy-Man's relationship is a sharp juxtaposition with the coldness/bleakness of the environment - hadn't thought about that, specifically. OK.

  4. I've heard a lot about this book. I think I'm going to have to read it, because it sounds far too intriguing to miss.

  5. thanks for your review. I think The Road was the best book I read in 2009. As you say it is utterly absorbing, the writing is profoundly evocative, the atmosphere in the book is very intense, i too was terrified much of the time, it is not often I get such a real physical reaction to a book. But I am not sure it is a tale about environmental destruction. this might be the assumed cause of the apocalypse but I feel the story is about the end of humanity not of the planet.
    thanks for sharing your thoughts

  6. @Caroline - do! I've wanted to read this one for ages and now I finally have I wish I'd read it earlier. Enjoy :)

    @Brizmus - Thanks for your lovely comment! It's always interesting to see how different people react to different books in different ways. Why did you find it boring? Was it the way it was written or the lack of clear direction and/or goal to the story? Interested to hear your thoughts :)

    @Greg - Thanks for your comment!! I think that if that warmth in their relationship hadn't been there the novel would have been too overwhelmingly awful so in a way was necessary as a balancing effect. Did you see the movie? I haven't and wonder how it compares...

    @Shannon - Definitely read this one! It's far too good to miss out on.

    @Martine - FABULOUS point you make there and I agree entirely: the point of this book isn't that the world has ended but what has happened to the people as a result. BING! The light goes on. Thank you, that has totally clarified my thinking on it and why it felt different to other post-apocalyptic novels and also explains why there was so little explanation of what had happened to the planet. It's scary to think that order and civility is such a fragile thing isn't it? Thanks :)

  7. Kath, yeah, I did see the movie - it was fantastic - a very worth companion to the book.

  8. My middle son read this in December and it quickly became one of his all-time favorites. Which might not be saying much for some 18yo guys but he's quite a reader and had a lot to say about this one. I'm going to have to pick it up one of these days.