I’ve just read a rather good post on why schools should teach Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and thoroughly agree. The Road is a beautifully poetic and challenging book, exactly the kind of thing teenagers should be reading to help them to think about what is important in their lives.
A book of such terrible beauty that it left me choking back tears at the end.
The characters and images will live on with me for a long time, like the shadows of the lost world the father guides his son through. Despite the utter despair of a dying world I found this a very positive book. The father and son are ‘carrying the fire,’ which I took to be that they are trying to be beacons of hope in a hopeless world. The father constantly tells his son that they are the good guys but routinely refuses to help others despite his son’s protests. This creates conflict between them but it is something that simmers constantly throughout rather than exploding when things become to much. The book is filled with a constant dread with regards to what might happen to the father and son and it is this dread that powers the book along. Written in short paragraphs with no chapters its the kind of book that I would normally struggle with but the characters are so sympathetic and the language so poetic that I was hooked by the first paragraph. When he talks about the grey, lifeless days his words are succinct and full of purpose, ‘Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.’ McCarthy creates a post apocalyptic vision that appals and shocks, a world sparsely populated with desperate, shameful people, that pray upon the misfortune of others by stealing their food and often their lives. The father and son set out upon the road,a quest to head south, to find the ‘good guys’ to ‘carry the torch,’ to avoid the marauding, cannibalistic gangs, to not be eaten or worse.
McCarthy never states the nature of the catastrophe that has befallen the Earth, (it sounds like it may be nuclear with a description of percussive thuds and bursts of light on the night it happens) or names the father and son and, for me, this makes it even more powerful. The fact that they aren’t named means that they could be anyone but more importantly that names are no longer of use.
It all sounds a bit bleak I know but it isn’t. There is much to admire within the pages of this book. The beauty of the alien yet familiar landscape, the lost childhood of the boy, the memory of the mother but most importantly the bond between father and son. I did something I rarely like to do with books, I watched the film before I read the book. The power of McCarthy’s writing made me forget about the film, which to be fair is a decent adaptation and, if, like the film, I’d have finished it at night I would have once again run upstairs to kiss the sleeping heads of my children. As it was I made a cup of tea and sat thinking, thinking about the friends I’d lost and the world that took them.
This book is a must read. Spread the word.
Buy it here.
Some other links you might like;
Wikipedia info on the book.
Info on the film.