The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I don’t buy many new books, but I consider this one so extraordinary, and its environmental message so important, that I’ve acquired numerous copies. I hand them out like end-of-the-world tracts to friends, with the warning: “You need to be in a good space to read this.”
McCarthy’s novel takes us to a very bad space indeed: kind of Mad Max meets King Lear’s blasted heath. In the wake of an unspecified calamitous event, a father and son push a supermarket trolley through a post-apocalyptic landscape of bitterly cold ash and dust. As they inch their way along a highway towards the coast and the faint chance that things might somehow be different there, their greatest danger comes not from the ruined surroundings but from the desperate individuals and savage gangs also roaming the wasteland.
Disturbingly, this landscape is not confined to fiction. The thought that recurs while reading The Road is not, “it couldn’t happen, not like that”, but more “it probably would happen like that …” In fact, this kind of devastation has already occurred to a degree in parts of the world, resulting in millions of environmental refugees.
The difference is that, in McCarthy’s near-future world, the desolation is global: the road has no end. What is perhaps most astonishing is how the story still manages to sound a note of fragile, uncertain hope.
McCarthy’s occasionally self-conscious style may irritate – especially in the first few pages, before The Road has you firmly by the scruff of the neck. But the overall effect of this tour-de-force book is so profound that any initial reservations simply cease to matter. As with all great writing, it’s not obvious how McCarthy manages to affect you so deeply. But he does.
(Review by Olivia Rose-Innes)
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