I am a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and this book seemed to appear in a number of top ten/best of type lists, so I really wanted to take a look. The Road is the story of a father and son who are travelling through America ten years after a major disaster has hit the country and presumably the world. The world has become a very bleak place where nothing grows, everything is covered in ash and the sun is virtually blocked out by a dark sky. The few remaining survivors are forced to scavenge for whatever they can find and even to resort to cannibalism. The roads are travelled by dangerous and violent men, driven on by desperation:
“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.” ― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
In such an environment we find a man and his son travelling on their way to the south of the country in the hope that they will find a warmer climate that will allow them to survive the winter.
On picking up the book, I was slightly reluctant as there didn’t seem to be much happening apart from two people travelling along a road. I was encouraged by the fact that it was a fairly small book and should not take too long to read. I was right about that. I read this book in one or two sittings. I just did not want to put it down.
That is not to say that this is an easy or pleasant read. Once I started reading and got caught up in the struggle of the two main characters, I found myself tense and anxious. Every time I had to put the book down, I could not wait to rush back and pick it up to make sure that the two characters were going to be okay.
This book has some brutal scenes which are painful to read and which haunted me long after I finished this book. My mind continues to return again and again to scenarios in the book and fret about how things could have been different and how people could end up in the way they do in this book.
At the same time, what stands out is the very sweet relationship between the father and son. How then man (the characters are never named) does everything he can to protect his son, to reassure him that they will be okay. The tenderness between the two characters is very moving and portrayed beautifully. The boy has a very sweet nature and remains loving and caring despite witnessing so much brutality.
“You have my whole heart. You always did.” - Cormac McCarthy, The Road
“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire.” - Cormac McCarthy, The Road
These qualities mean that we are caught up even more in the pairs struggle and juxtaposed with the violence in the book, this means that I ended up reading this book mostly in a state of unease. At times I found myself so drawn into the book that I would be in a state of semi-panic.
Throughout the book, there are references to the hopelessness of the survivors, particularly in the way that they have rejected God or their own humanity. Yet the tenderness of the father and son, their patience and their willingness to keep going suggests there is cause to believe otherwise:
“Deep in each man is the knowledge that something knows of his existence. Something knows, and cannot be fled nor hid from.” - Cormac McCarthy, The Road
This is a very hard book to read, I felt so very sad at the end of it and the images will remain with me a long time. Despite this it is a beautifully written and extraordinarily engaging book.