Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road
Written by Cormac McCarthy

Published in: 2006

Synopsis: A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food--and each other.

(Jesus, how fantastic are these typography covers he has? I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I'd like to marry this cover and make beautiful typographic babies with it.)

If this book were a colour, it would be grey. If it were a word, it would be bleak. If it were a sound it'd be white noise or the persistent drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet. This isn't a cheery book. If you're even slightly bummed it will make you 1000 times worse, guaranteed. Yet it's an incredible and captivating book. I had no idea if I was going to enjoy this book, and to be honest I wasn't particularly eager to read it. Something about the crazy praise McCarthy has received from every possible critic just made me feel like he perhaps was being built up as something he could never possibly be. As much as I enjoyed The Road, until I've read a few more of his books I'm weary to jump onto the McCarthy bandwagon (I still dislike the author himself - or at least the pettiness he seems to view readers with), however he's at least partially proved those critics right with this fine, fine piece of Literature (yes, with the capital L).

And this is where I run into some trouble, I'm finding it hard to describe what it is I loved about this book, and why I consider it a success. For all intents and purposes this kind of Capital L writing is not my thing. Usually I find it a little wanky and pretentious, and I find it pretty lazy since they usually spend more time trying to craft the "perfect" sentence rather than develop a decent story or character. Certainly The Road is full of Capital L writing, some of which made me giggle it was so over the top, but mostly it just felt right. Same with the characters. They're nameless and are only referred to as The Man and The Boy (or something similar), and there is little in the way of a past developed for them. Similarly, considering the entire story takes place as they walk along a road in a dystopian America with very little happening, there are few instances where you get a really clear idea of their personalities, motivations or idiosyncrasies. However this doesn't bother me, because in the context of this story all you need to know is that they're continuing on. They keep moving and moving because they don't know what else to do, and The Man, perhaps selfishly, keeps his young son alive and starving in this poisonous world because he loves him too much to think of a world without him.

I guess it's the simplicity of this concept at the heart of this novel that I loved. It was a father's unconditional, earth-moving love of his son (who he refers to as a god several times) that motivates every event and non-event that forms this book, and that's kinda beautiful. Or maybe their defined idea of right and wrong, even in the face of complete destruction and catastrophe, speaks to the romantic in me. They're the good guys, the ones who carry the fire, who would rather stave than kill another human for food. Perhaps in reality we'd all turn to cannibalism, but I'd like to think that's a line I'd never cross, at least if it meant killing a person (especially a child or baby). In fact, I think that pretty much sums up the two primary points why I loved this book, and why, amidst the Capital L writing, lack of punctuation and sparse, sometimes ridiculous dialogue (the conversation between The Man and an Old Man On The Road was the only thing I actively disliked in the whole book) I still love this book more than many others I've read this year. Or maybe it's something else, maybe I should stop searching for the reason and just accept that this novel effected me in a completely visceral level, and no amount of discussion will uncover any real answers.

Also, one thing before I end this terrible review. How in the hell did they get the green light to adapt this book to film?! I mean that in the best possible way. Normally a book will be twisted and abused until it better represents the ideal Hollywood blockbuster (case in point: I Am Legend )but not this one. The film is just as quiet and bleak and full of nothingness (and yet everythingness) as the book and I'm astounded that no one tried to add at least one huge action sequence or flashback to the end of the world. Regardless of if you like the book or not, all of you bibliophiles must surely recognise the amazability of this! (yes I'm full of fake, made up words in this review!)

The Road is a minimalist novel filled with bleaker than bleak imagery and events and it won't be for everyone, and I imagine you probably have to be in a rather exact mind-frame to be able to accept it, but perhaps you will find yourself loving the book as much as I do. I don't know if I'll ever re-read this one, I don't imagine it'll ever become one of my "read once a year" books, but I really, really, really loved this book. It's just...unexplainable.


  1. It's my favorite that I've read of McCarthy. It is kind of amazing.

  2. I need to read this book! I have been putting it off forever!!
    Angela's Anxious Life

  3. I loved this book, but you're right it is as bleak as hell. Bleaker than hell, in fact. It makes me realise every other book I've read that I thought was bleak was just in fact slightly miserable. And Bleak House needs to be renamed now we have The Road.

    I've read some others of his since reading this one, and whilst they were good none hit as hard as this. I'm not aware of his "pettiness" to readers - what's the story?

  4. In an interview I read he was asked about whether he writes for himself or for audiences (or something alone those lines) and he basically said he writes for the audience, because readers can't handle anything too weighty or lacking action and they "don't want Moby Dick". It just infuriated me so much!

    Have you read No Country for Old Men, James? I really enjoyed the film, so i'm curious whether the book hits the same notes.

  5. Yeah I have read that one - I think I'd you like the film you'll like the book. Style & tone pretty similar & some of the dialogue lifted straight from book. It's not one of those film adaptations that changes the source material for no reason (hello, I Am Legend!)

  6. I'm curious about this one but I don't know that I can handle the bleakness.

  7. I know I can't deal with the bleakiosity of this at the moment, but I think I'll have to read it some day, just because... It's kind of a big deal! I've only read No Country For Old Men by McCarthy (so wanted to call him McCormac then, odd!) and I was seriously overwhelmed by it, but then I didn't really like the film either so... I probably should have figured that one out haha!

  8. It's definitely a bleak book, and I can't blame you guys for being put off because of it. It's pretty close to the movie, so if you've seen that and it was too much maybe skip the book!

  9. This is one of the few books that I've liked that I'm not eager to recommend to everyone. So give it a shot...at your own risk!



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