The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is the third novel I’ve read this year that is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The others were Far North by Marcel Theroux (reviewed here) and Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (reviewed here). In the post-nuke timeline, The Road is set in the years immediately after the big one and it’s the grimmest by far.
When our book group met last week to discuss Riddley Walker, we had a really interesting debate on whether life would really regress to an iron age existence … Some of our number weren’t sure – surely a few scientists and engineers etc would survive be able to get things going again they said. The others of us said that finding and then growing food and making shelter would be the priority for years afterwards and no time and effort could be spared for anything else. We were down the pub after all, so we waxed lyrical about a rather romanticised world where we’d all learn to be blacksmiths and so on. This was the beer talking – for this week, having read The Road, I feel that I know without doubt that it would not be like that at all…
Nuclear winter is setting in. The American landscape is grey – almost everything is burnt or buried in ash. There is no wildlife, it’s either died or been eaten, human bodies are everywhere – dessicated and mummified by ash, others rotten, some obviously cannibalised. It still rains ash and the weather is getting colder. For those that live, survival is the only thing on their minds. Foraging for food, clothes and shelter; protecting themselves from other, now few and far between, survivors.
We follow the progress of a father and son – not named, just trying to take the road south to the sea where they think it’ll be warmer. They’re constantly exhausted, starving, cold and ill, their whole world contained within a shopping trolley. His overwhelming love for and instinct to protect his son is the only thing keeping the father alive, the only thing he has worth living for. The son remains full of hope that when they get to the coast, everything will be alright, that they’ll find some good guys – the father does his best to keep that belief alive.
The book is written in short bursts, each giving a glimpse of what living in this awful new world is like. We don’t find out much at all about what happened – it’s nearly all about the ‘now’ for father and son – what point is there dwelling on a past that can never be recovered.
A few pages in you stop being irritated by the bitty style and start engaging in your own journey with them – there’s a rhythm to the daily grind which makes it a strangely beautiful read. It’s relentlessly grim, and incredibly sad and moving, and a very scary vision of a possible future that we mustn’t let happen. (10/10)
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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy, paperback.