We’re delighted to bring you our first book review from the Leith Library Book Group. December’s book was ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy and this review was written by Marylyn Hill.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if this book had been written in the 1960s or 70s, during the Cold War when the threat of nuclear attack permeated life, story & film. In fact it was written in 2007. It’s a post-apocalyptic view of the USA (and presumably the whole world – we are not told) as seen by a father and young son trudging along from somewhere to nowhere.
Environmentalist writer George Monbiot described The Road as “the most important environmental book ever written” because of the accurate and compelling detail of how the world might look after a global catastrophic disaster with no sun, no agriculture, no biosphere. Read his article in the Guardian here.
But, with no political analysis of events leading up to this disaster (nuclear bombs? global warming?) McCarthy is offering a description of a dystopian society, not a prescription for pre-emptive action.
The book is set a number of years after the catastrophe happened and there is very little left. No sunlight can get through the grey ash cloud. There is no agriculture, no industry, no technology, no animals. It is a heavy, cold, grey picture, detailing the hardship and fear experienced on this unending, almost unendurable trek.
Language and Style
The language and style reflect the bleakness. McCarthy uses fairly short paragraphs throughout – rather than chapters – to underline the sense of never completing anything nor arriving anywhere. Descriptions are vivid and graphic – sometimes disturbing.
His lack of punctuation of can’t and don’t (cant & dont), which initially irritated me, emphasises the lack of structure and rules in this new society where there seem to be few “good guys” (as the father & son frequently confirm to each other that they are).
We share their constant fear that gangs roaming around will capture, abuse, kill and maybe even eat them, as they are doing to others. The fact that the father and son are not given names and are often referred to as “the boy/the man” seems to accentuate even more the breakdown in their lives.
What did we think?
Group members all agreed that “enjoyed” was not the appropriate word for The Road.
One group member remarked that at least one of the conversations in The Road has echoes of Becket’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ where communication is very restricted and odd. At one point the man muses on how easy it might be to forget words that are no longer used and the names of things that no longer exist.
Apart from one short episode when the father discovers an un-looted underground bunker (stocked out in the 1970s in anticipation of nuclear disaster?) where for a few days they eat plenty and stay warm, it is unremittingly grim!
The father’s constant suspicion of everyone they meet is occasionally balanced by the young boy’s sensitivity and kind heartedness to others on the road and is a cheering reminder of basic human goodness.
However, there is no rose-tinted or optimistic ending – this is a world with no prospects, a road with no direction or end. Even the good guys have no real future.
We’d love you to join the conversation online by adding your comments below. January’s Book is a Scottish Fiction Lucky Dip. Find out more about the Book Group here.