Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Road - Book Review

The Road is a book best read without listening to the hype. Especially if you've read other good post-apocalyptic fiction. Cormac McCarthy's done a remarkable job at acquiring a bleak tone that still allows you to hope - if barely - that things will get better for the characters.

The story is told, without dialogue punctuation or chapters, from the point of view of a man, walking along the road, with his son. Frequent breaks allow the 'action' to progress quickly while also allowing for flashbacks. The man is heading to the coast, to a warmer climate, in the hopes of finding a place where he and his son can survive the coming winter. He has a gun with two bullets, and a shopping cart with food and supplies. Which run out.

The book is one long struggle to survive. Against nature (cold, hunger) and man (cannibals, thieves). It is a very primal story.

For me the downside was that you learn so little about the protagonists (the boy is never named nor are you told his age) and what caused the apocalypse (though you can guess) that it was hard to fully immerse myself in their situation. The ending especially seemed weak and fanciful, considering what we've seen of this new world and the people in it. Indeed, given how closely we follow this pair, I was not as upset by the ending as I thought I should have been. (By which I mean, upset in a good way - the way that means you cared about the characters and you want them to have a happy ending even if you can't see how that could come about.) Which was strange, as within the present you become quite close to them and their plight. Perhaps for me the tone was too bleak, to the point that after a time I stopped believing that things could get better for them.

I think if this had been the first post-apocalyptic novel I'd read I would have liked it a lot more. If you only read one post-apocalyptic novel then I still have to suggest The Postman, by David Brin (forget the film, the book is MUCH better). He shows the power of hope in impossible circumstances and what it does to people - and what it makes people do.

To sum up with The Road, though McCarthy tried to add the hope element into his bleak landscape, it didn't really succeed for me. There wasn't enough of a past for the characters for me to fully immerse myself in their present. The writing however, was superb and the story is an excellent one. He tries several things that succeed very well - in tone and character. Just be prepared to be depressed by it.

And here's link to the movie trailer. You can't go wrong with Viggo Mortensen!

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