Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Road -- Cormac McCarthy.

In the past, like many readers of genre fiction, I have been overcome with guilt about my addiction and a mistaken urge to self-improvement. I’ve fought narcolepsy through the first hundred or so pages of War and Peace, I enjoyed my journey East of Eden, been mildly irritated by To Kill a Mockingbird and been surprised at my enjoyment of The Life of Pi and the The Story of the Dog in the Night-time. Throughout an adult education English A Level I was first repelled by Congreve, Othello and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, then told the requisit exam-passing lies about how I enjoyed Richard II and The Bell by Iris Murdock. So when Julie Crisp at Macmillan suggested I read The Road by Pulitzer-winning doyen of the literati Cormac McCarthy, I did have some reservations.

Upon discovering that the present state of my back prevents me from doing light labour, and that sitting at a computer for too long results in me being unable to lie flat when I go to bed, I picked up The Road and decided to give it a try. I expected to struggle through twenty or so pages of pretentious twaddle then, depending on the strength of my reaction to that, either give the book to one of the free lending libraries down in the bars in Makrigialos, or usefully employ it in our stove here.

There was some to criticise here. The bare bones writing thing was taken too far with the dropping of apostrophes, which grated, and the lack of speech marks, which sometimes led to confusion. However, the only pretension I found was in the praise the reviewers heaped on The Road. Superlatives abounded in the descriptions of this shattering, searing, utterly compelling, haunting, gripping, brutal, heart-rending story. One twit linked it to global warming and nearly stopped me at the cover, but luckily I ignored that and read on. The Road is about the aftermath where the ‘math’ isn’t really important. If you wanted to be picky this seems to be set in that other possibility-hyped-to-catastrophe the nuclear winter. The reviewer concerned was just going with the ‘right-on’ lazy groupthink, as so many of them do.

So what is this book about? It is about a man and a boy struggling to survive in a burnt and lifeless world as they take the road south, where the man thinks it will be warmer, or rather, it’s about carrying on without hope. It’s the black, white and grey of the cover, stark, dismal, bleak. I read it in about 4 hours and never regretted a second. I even forgot about my back-ache. Recommended.


Graeme said...

I saw the movie. It is the closest thing you could imagine, to how the world re-invented itself into Mutes and Sandburrowers of Patrick Tilley's Amtrack Wars.

There is a line at the start about everyone feeling a couple of quick concussions, and then nothing. I thought maybe it alluded to meteorite impact.

Whatever happened: at the start, you see into the house with stored provisions etc. So they knew what was coming.

It was harsh, one of those "everyone should see this" films, despite feeling totally mauled by the end of it.

The book of Eli on the other hand was on balance a shit film along a similar theme, it's saving graces was good sword play. However it had a "I don't give a flying fuck about your contrived twist in the tail ending", It was the glamour that the Road totally totally lacked (and for the best as well).

Anonymous said...

Read that last year and loved it. Found it strange how something so bleak could also be uplifting

Taylor said...

Check out No Country For Old Men for a great chase novel, very much like the film. Also, Blood Meridian is quite good, but very dense. The main thing that kept me reading was the character of the Judge.

Neal Asher said...

Seen No Country for Old men, very good, though I was dissatisfied by the ending.

Anonymous said...

I watched Book Of Eli and The Road in the space of the week at the cinema.

The Road won out, even though it left me depressed. The book of Eli, promised much but failed to deliver.

The Road was harsh and didn't leave you with any promise of things getting better. Still a good film though.

Martin Sommerfeld said...

A great book. Even as a non native english reader I liked the writing style a lot, but I agree that the "bare bones writing" went a bit far. Not as far as to actually cause me any problem in understanding, but in slowing me down a bit, especially the missing speech marks you mentioned.

pills4menerves said...

I loved Blood Meridian, very brutal and sadistic story; I read The Road after that and found it difficult to put down and impossible not to read out to my wife. No Country: good film, excellent book.

Paul said...

I bought this on Tuesday to read while I was in London for work.
Fuck! I don't think I've ever read anything so bleak. And so believable. The end of the world as it would really happen. Not in a Hollywood flash of hours but and agonising drawn out death over years, decades even. Some of the images really stick in your head. The human larder being one I couldn't shift when trying to get to sleep.


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