On ‘The Road’

At 1am last night, as Melbourne sweltered through its warmest ever night, ( a minimum of 30.6 degrees celsius was reached only at 8.49am), I picked up ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy.

As the temperature gradually dropped through the 30s I plowed through his post-apocalyptic, grey, dark and snowy book. By 4.30 am I finished the last page.

Cormac McCarthy was born in 1933, and his 76 years on earth have gifted him a particularly bleak outlook. I was familiar with his work only by having seen the film No Country for Old Men. Which may have been the most powerfully horrible, morally destabilising film I have ever seen.

So I was prepared for the book’s epic-scale serving of bleak. I’d guess no book I ever read  had the word ‘grey’ in it so many times. A man and his son traverse a post apocalyptic land (probably, but not identifiably, America) along a road full of the hopeless, the starving and the violent. The Road.

Four years have passed since the calamity, perhaps a meteor strike, perhaps a nuclear attack. Food is very nearly gone. Every tree they pass is dead. The landscape alternates between black areas (the subject of ‘firestorms’), and ashy areas. It rains and snows a lot. The sky is never clear. There are no animals left. The cities are full of corpses.

The book could be read as a thriller, or as an extended metaphor. The man and his son carry their possessions in a shopping cart. So they move on a dangerous, meaningless, one-way journey through an empty and meaningless environment, living for survival and kept alive by the possessions in their shopping cart. The natural world is dead to them. Violence is necessary. Charity is beyond their means, and the sole generosity they attempt is met with defiant apathy.

Is this environment the result of man’s actions, or a natural event?  McCarthy doesn’t ask.  Either way it reads as inevitable.

Given the tone of the book, I thought the ending was comparatively hopeful.

I give The Road ten out of ten relentless miles of starvation, threat and existential misery.  Read it before the movie comes out.

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thomasthethinkengine

Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

4 thoughts on “On ‘The Road’”

  1. McCarthy became a dad for the second time in his 70s!! I reckon the book is a metaphor for the fact that he won’t be around forever for his new son and his concerns for him in an uncertain future.

    I wouldn’t have gone so far as 10 out of 10 as the ending seemed to be a little rushed and it was all resolved a little too quickly and a little too easily.

    I really love his writing stlye though – reading Border Trilogy at the moment which seems very good so far.

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    1. good recommendation, gaz – thanks for lending me your copy! I’ve passed it on to Dufus…. he may lend it on again.. Fingers crossed you’ll get it back eventually!

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  2. I found the book so compelling because I didn’t actually expect any redemption to occur, yet wanted to read on to find out how long our protagonists would survive. There was that feeling in the words, that their end was inevitable but the journey was about how long the man could stave off death and have enough time to make sure his son would be able to live without him. The ending was generous, and surprisingly optimistic as you say. In this after-world all that mattered was what vestiges of nostalgia could be salvaged, and eaten, to survive.

    Did you know that the Nova is having a Page to Picture Event for the Road on Jan 26 at 330pm? They’re selling tickets online now for a pre-release screening of the movie, plus a panel discussion re: the adaptation process, and I suppose to judge the relative merits of this form.

    I could picture “the movie” version while I was reading, but thought that the beauty of the writing was in its formal profundity through sparsity. The film will be a different beast, as it always it, albeit one with the Viggo element…hmmm…

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