- Publisher: Picador
- ISBN: 0330513001
- Published: July 23, 2017
Cormac McCarthy’s modern classic dystopian novel, The Road, follows the journey of a father and his young son through post-apocalyptic wastelands. Risking daily starvation and death at the hands of men who want to eat them, they carry their meagre possessions in a shopping trolley along a road heading to the coast.
As a reader, you’re dropped into the world with little explanation about what has happened. It is cold, there is little sunlight and the night is long. The trees are all dead, there are no animals, few people, and sections of the road have mummified corpses melted into the tar.
About halfway through the novel it occurred to me – this is the sort of event that scientists speculate killed off the dinosaurs (big shout-out to my own young sons for making me explain this catastrophic event dozens of times!). A massive meteor – or perhaps a solar flare – hit the earth, causing raging fires and air pollution which blocked out the sun. Lack of sun caused the vegetation to die. Lack of vegetation caused the herbivorous animals to die, which meant the carnivores had nothing to eat and they died out too.
The Road starts about 10 years or so after the event, when stores of tinned food are running out and there is a true sense of hopelessness that the situation will never improve.
And yet, there is the father who clings to a sliver of hope that maybe they can hold on. Perhaps if they just keep going each day, he and his son will walk their way along the road to a future.
The son is not quite so optimistic. Born just days after the beginning of the end of the world, he often doubts his father’s stories of the comparative mecca that was lost.
This quote from the father sums up, for me, what the book is about – the realisation that his son is the first of a generation who will never really know what the world was:
He’d been visited in a dream by creatures of a kind he’d never seen before. They did not speak. He thought that they’d been crouching by the side of his cot as he slept and then had skulked away on his awakening. He turned and looked at the boy. Maybe he understood for the first time that to the boy he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed. The tales of which were suspect.
What I thought of it
There’s something about books that don’t use quotation marks. The dialogue seems quieter in my head, duller. It took me a while to get used to the sporadic use of punctuation, particularly apostrophes – I had to fight my desire to get out a red pen and add them – but once I settled in, the use of language made sense in the context of the story.
Some passages read like a stream of consciousness but others are clear. It wasn’t a difficult read, but it was certainly jarring. The lack of names added to the sparse punctuation made it feel like watching a movie underwater – bleak and muted:
He put wood on the fire and fanned it to life and they lay in their blankets watching the flames twist in the wind and then they slept.
The Road is incredibly dark and the plot is very simple, but I loved it for the pure spark of hope carried by the father for his young son. If you’re into dystopian fiction, this is a must-read as it’s firmly part of a recent but established canon.