Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Year originally published: 2006
Even though it’s been half a month since my last review, I’ve been reading a crazy amount. Blame my new official ‘unemployed’ status (having graduated at the end of June) for the glut of new blood on my bookshelf and in my Kindle.
On The Road had been on my TBR list for a good year or so, but while in the throes of finals, I couldn’t quite bear to put myself through the misery of struggling through a post-apocalyptic landscape. Because, when boiled down to its very base elements, that is what The Road is. A father and a son – deliberately nameless, referred to only as ‘the man’ and ‘the boy’, but no less memorable for their lack of names – fight to stay alive in a burned landscape where self-immolations and cannibalism have become an everyday reality. Throughout the novel we see men and women – whether organised bands of thugs or individuals acting out of desperation – snatch and devour children and imprison fellow humans as a food source. Inevitably, the very pursuit of survival and its means renders such people inhuman. The boy and the man come into contact with these monsters as well as barely-living shells of former people constantly while on the Road, on their journey south in search of food, and warmer climes. The man tries to shield his son from numerous atrocities, adamant that they are ‘the good guys’, and intent on instilling moral codes in his son even in this horrifying world. This all raises the question of whether in the face of such desolation, it is preferable to embrace the means of survival, even if it means sacrificing one’s soul – or to continue to preserve one’s humanity, even if it means death.
This may be a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction, but it definitely isn’t the type you’d find lurking on the YA shelves in your local bookshop. The Road is grim. Yet it’s exactly the story’s unwaveringly bleak tone which continued to draw me in. Here is a novel that, while set in a nightmare world, focuses on the all-encompassing relationship between father and son. While the desecration of the landscape they inhabit may be unfamiliar to us, the all-pervading message is clear. Every character the father and son meet, like them – and like us – will die in the end. It is this dose of devastating realism which hit home hardest for me. One day, I might have to accept it.