The Road (Cormac McCarthy 2006)


This is a very strange and unique book. I picked it up, thinking it would be another work of post apocalyptic science fiction with nothing special about it to tell. From the moment I read the first page I suspected that notion would be quickly proven wrong and in some respects I was right. The Road follows two characters, a man and a boy. No names given. That is the first and most striking thing about the novel. The plot sounds simple enough. The boy and the man travel south after the latter realises that they are unlikely to survive the winter but their journey becomes complicated after they have to contend with hunger, bloodthirsty cannibals and illness. It sounds simple on paper but the book covers a lot of ground in this time, enough to feel like an epic despite being an average sized book.

The thing that struck me most about the book was the style. It is written with minimal punctuation, not even speech marks. This was a bit unusual to say the least and it took a bit of getting used to, but it also told me that McCarthy wasn’t afraid to break a few rules to get the feel of story he wanted. I also liked the fact that the book lacked actual chapters, instead opting to split the story into short segments which are sometimes barely over a paragraph long and rarely last longer than a page or two at maximum. I liked it since it made it feel all like one story, which it was when looking back at it. It made the story feel rather life like and since time passes in between a few of these segments it contributes to the story’s epic feel since it basically makes the novel feel like it is one big journey.

I have a few gripes about the technical aspects of the novel however. As mentioned before the lack of speech marks took a bit of getting used to but even after I got used to them I found the conversations hard to follow. This was in part because they would go on for a while without any description on who is talking, meaning after a while I sort of lost track of who was talking. This also ties in with my other gripe, the dialogue. The dialogue was a bit bland and boring throughout most of the book and a lot of it follows the structure of the kid asking a question and the man giving the answer. After a while I found it quite boring to read, though the plot still kept me gripped.

I loved the plot. It was all very ambiguous. It left me wondering whether all the people out there the man steered them away from were really that bad or if he was just paranoid, though in a lot of cases he was proven right. He talks about how they are the good guys, as if to remind himself not to resort to cannibalism like the rest despite how hungry they are. At the end the kid encounters a group of humans and that scene is one of my favourites since it is left ambiguous as to whether they actually have good intentions. However they mention something about having to take a leap of faith, which ties in quite a bit with the novel’s overall plot since in essence the entire journey south was decided based on a leap of faith. I liked how in the end it was the kid who survived at the end, since ultimately he is the one who still trusts people despite his experiences.

Overall The Road was a very enjoyable read and I was disappointed that I finished it so soon after picking it up since I never wanted it to end. I was impressed by McCarthy’s skill as a writer more than anything since despite a few misgivings it worked well  and I thoroughly enjoyed what I was reading. His ability to write in such an unusual style, while also not naming any of the protagonists throughout the entire thing, is a sign of his skill as a writer and for that I must commend him. It’s very rare that I read a book like this, one that it so utterly unique that you cannot deny it’s good qualities. This is probably one of the best pieces of post apocalyptic fiction I’ve read in a long time, and a standout work in a genre overpopulated by generic zombie fiction and dystopian novels.

SCORE: 4/5



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