The Road – Cormac McCarthy

I bought The Road a couple of months ago and hadn’t gotten around to reading it so I brought it on holiday with me a couple of weeks ago. I read it over the course of a couple of early nights with a couple of glasses of wine in our apartment in Antibes.

The Road blew me away and McCarthy deserves his reputation as one of the greatest American writers alive. The book is a dystopian nightmare; a father and son travel across a post-apocalyptic America, their goal is to reach a warmer climate and some hope of salvation. Humankind has almost died out and those that are left are either desperate lonely survivors, or gangs of cannibals who harvest other humans for food. The boy and his father, who remain unnamed throughout the book, struggle to retain their humanity, compassion and moral compass in the face of total devastation and lawlessness.

The landscape is harsh and barren, blanketed with grey ash and frequently filled with forest fires and electrical storms. Life is reduced to its most basic elements; food, warmth, shelter and safety. There are a couple of light moments – such as the time the man and boy stumble across an underground shelter filled with food and other essentials, and spend two happy days there, sleeping and eating – but the book is for the most part a shattering read and the horror it contains is all too believable.

I admire McCarthy’s writing enormously – the dialogue is spare and tight, the descriptions of America reduced to rubble and mud are vivid, and the relationship between the man and boy heartbreaking. I suppose my only qualm with the book and with the 2009 film adaptation is that I found it hard to understand why anyone would want to go on living in such an environment. I struggled to understand why the man would, day after day, force his son to live with fear, cold, and hunger in a hostile and dangerous environment. If it had been me, I’m afraid to say I would have killed both myself and my son. I would see no reason to live in such a world.

I suppose in order for our species to continue we need people like the man in this book, people who are unwilling to give up the fight to live, no matter what the cost. If it weren’t for people like him, perhaps humankind would have already died out. The book deservedly won The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and The James Tait Black Memorial Prize. It’s a harrowing read but McCarthy’s mastery of his craft makes it thought provoking and worthwhile.

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