The Road

Published: 2006
Author: Cormac McCarthy


Both beautiful and terrible – a sign of things to come?

Today is 23rd April, UNESCO’s World Book Day and the anniversary of both the birth and death of William Shakespeare. It is also the second World Book Night. Intended to spread the joy of reading, World Book Night will see dedicated readers give away 24 copies of one of their favourite books. The aim is to get books into the hands of people who don’t regularly read and to encourage people to celebrate books.

When I got my email confirming I had been selected as a giver I was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about my allocated book – the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Set in a future where Earth has been destroyed by some undefined cataclysmic event, The Road follows a father and his young son as they travel south in an attempt to survive the cold winter. The landscape is barren, there are no animals or birds left alive and few people. Those people that the pair do encounter are seen as the “bad guys” while the unnamed father and son are the “good guys”. We follow the journey with its highs and lows for several months and experience the son’s increasing terror and the father’s declining health.

I found the first few pages of The Road difficult to read. There are no chapters and some of the punctuation was tough to get used to. For some reason McCarthy has an aversion to apostrophes in words such as don’t, won’t and can’t and for the first dozen or so pages I was sure there had been a horrible typesetting error.

Once I got over my initial reservations I was hooked. The descriptions of the desolate landscape were horrifying, yet beautiful at the same time. I could close my eyes and see exactly the scenery being described. The future America is a barren place where fear and mistrust of strangers is rampant. The father is both protecting and damaging his son by his refusal to contemplate alliances with fellow travelers.

The relationship between the father and son is a moving one and it reminded me a little of Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir Night where he describes the Death March which he and his father embark upon. This is a complex relationship – the father refuses to share his illness with his son, simultaneously protecting him but also leaving him unprepared for the future.  The son, while very childlike in many ways, is growing up and starting to develop his own moral code which is slightly at odd with his father’s.

I was left thinking a lot of different things by the end of the book – what had caused Earth’s decline? How would I cope? Was the father doing the best by his son or should he have been more open to helping and working with others? The scariest thought of all though – is this the future that we have ahead of us? It’s not a book that will leave me quickly – I’ll be thinking about it much longer than it took to read it.

Despite my initial disappointment and reservations about The Road I’m now excited to be able to share this book with others. It  perfectly illustrates the beautiful and terrible worlds that novels can create and will make people stop and think about the questions that it raises.

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