Book review: The Road

A father and his son walk across a grey dystopian landscape, where the sky is the colour of "gunmetal light" every single day and survival means contemplating the morality of cannibalism.

The premise of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, is of a world in relentless freefall after an unnamed event, most likely a massive nuclear war. In this society, which reads like a waking nightmare, the unnamed father and his son are "each the other's world entire" as they journey hopefully toward the sea, much like pilgrims of old hoping to find their holy place to settle down. 

I wallowed in this book for weeks after I'd finished reading it. During an interview I conducted with Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child, we discussed The Road and how it was largely a writer's book, because most of the other people we found who loved the book as much were writers too. Others seem to find it boring and slow-paced, preferring the movie  (strangely enough, Hollywood decided not to take imaginative licence and the film is largely faithful to the book) due to the availability of visual imagery.

Anecdotal reviews from readers I have come across who have read The Road are mixed, with those who like it citing the language - these are mostly people with some kind of literature background, if not writers, and those who dislike it saying that the language is a turnoff, that it appears that McCarthy is more concerned with description than plot. Which is a fair enough thing to say about The Road.

Those seeking a Dan Brown thriller will be disappointed. Those who like thematic novels that explore the philosophical side of life, grappling with questions like, "what is the meaning of good and evil", "what is the meaning of love" and ultimately, "what is the meaning of life", will like The Road.

It raises more questions than it answers, and you will inhabit this unnamed universe for a long time afterwards, while waiting for the bus, while shopping for groceries - you'll be thinking about what it means to explain our world to a child if our world had become a relic by the time they were born.

I consider the novel the equivalent of men and women who are the "thinking person's crumpet" rather than just a sexy, weird analogy, because can crumpets be sexy? I digress!

Though The Road is depressing as hell, what with lines such as "all things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain", "as for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart" and "by day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp".

NB: One more thing, don't read this book if punctuation is important to you.

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