’50 Novels’ The Road: Afterthoughts

When I finally laid this book on the table as finished (as part of my 50 Novels in One Year reading challenge), I blew out hard and gasped Wow! I knew I was in for a ‘bumpy ride’ before setting out to read this post-apocalyptic tale of human survival, but I didn’t realise quite how bumpy that journey was going to be (quite literally, as a lot of the action is cross-country :o)). I thought of metaphorically comparing the novel to being on a roller-coaster ride. However on a roller-coaster, the ride is full of ups and downs and in this novel, aside from occasional moments of success, the characters only really experience ‘downs’. It’s definitely not a ‘feel good’ book.

[NOTE: The following may contain minor spoilers]

Mr. McCarthy does an incredible job of ‘painting’ his post-apocalyptic America. The impression of bleakness, of total destruction, of a country where everything has been reduced to nothing is wholly apparent. The author spends a lot of time describing the landscape with everything covered in ash, all plant life dead, every man-made structure in a state of ruin and it almost always raining or snowing. I couldn’t get it out of my head, how grey everything must look in this landscape, and being faced with such a monochromatic vista, how could everything not seem bleak?

Whereas the majority of these kind of ‘world disaster’ novels illustrate apocalyptic destruction and survival by basing their ‘survivors’ in cities (typically New York), or towns (typically mid-sized, and cut off from the outside world), barely any of the action in The Road takes place in cities or towns. Urban areas are treated as ‘passing points’, places to briefly forage for anything of use (and places to proceed through with extreme caution). As such this brings both, an increased emphasis on the nomadic journeying aspect of the novel, and a greater emphasis on the main transit ‘artery’ used by any of the post-apocalyptic survivors – the road.

One thing I found that Mr. McCarthy achieves just as successfully in The Road, is to wholly personify the human bond that can exist between father and son, especially when a father and son are facing insurmountable odds in unimaginable circumstances. I can’t recall seeing this father/son bond being so well exemplified in words, anywhere else, and it’s truly one of Mr. McCarthy’s crowning glories. The father’s love and devotion for his son is clearly evident, as is the son’s love and utter reliance on his father.

While I hugely enjoyed The Road, I did have a couple of minor niggles with it. Firstly I was hoping to see a more moralistic struggle for survival being shown from the main characters. Although it’s clear that the father would stop at nothing to protect the safety of his son, I would have liked to have seen him wrestle more with the biggest survivalist taboo, and one focused on often in the novel, that of cannibalism. He does touch on the issue but not to the level and depth I would have liked to have seen.

There is also an aspect of the prose that take some getting used to at first: the severe lack of punctuation. Seeming as though he has an aversion to their usage, Mr. McCarthy omits quotation marks and apostrophes for the majority of his contracted words. However, although such a practice may leave a grammar teacher squirming in his/her seat, this is a technique that I think works. It brings a kind of visual barrenness to the page that mirrors the emptiness of the landscape of the novel. As I said it does take a bit of getting used to at first, but once you do it becomes invisible.

Rating: ★★★★★

Favourite quote: “She was gone and the coldness of it was her final gift. She would do it with a flake of obsidian. He’d taught her himself. Sharper than steel.” [Note: This is not my favourite quote because of the quality of the prose, it is more to do with what the quote relates to]

Favourite scene: When the father and son come across a grand house at the edge of town and find something ‘interesting’ in a locked cellar.

What this novel has taught me about writing: How important it is to create an environment that is wholly described and wholly believable. The realism that Mr. McCarthy presents in his apocolyptic landscape is stunning and added hugely to the sympathy I felt for the survivors (even the bad ones :o))

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).

Comments

  1. My husband has to read this book for his Literature class this semester. I may read it before he starts it next month! I love post-apocalyptic books ^_^.

    By the way, I totally didn’t know about this site or your other one until today! I thought it was just paperlessundergrad!

  2. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
    says:

    Tracy, firstly your hubby is going to love reading this- especially for a literature class. I’m so jealous of him!

    Secondly – you’re going to love The Road too. It’s an amazing novel, so please grab from him beforehand. You won’t regret it.

    Thirdly – yeah this is one of my ‘skeletons in the cupboard’. This site is actually new because I used to just cover all of my reading ‘stuff’ at RobAroundTheClock. However as my passion for novel reading has grown, it’s needed a blog of it own soooo tada! Here it is :o)

  3. I heard that the movie was coming out soon, and then I learned that it was based on a book. I will have to put this book on my “to be read” pile, it sounds good, though not my usual type of read. But it’s good to occasionally get out of your comfort zone, right?

  4. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
    says:

    Art,
    While I’m not sure of your reading tastes, I’m pretty sure you’d love this novel whatever they are…and I think you’re right it is good to get out of your ‘comfort zone’ on occasion. I did recently with Gaiman’s Graveyard Book and I enjoyed it immensely!!

    Anyway nice to hear from you
    Warmest
    Rob

  5. Thanks for the afterthoughts – this is going on my reading list for the year right now. The ‘severe lack of punctuation’ sounds fascinating.

    Can’t wait!

    Lis

  6. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
    says:

    The lack of punctuation is a definite highlight Lis. You’ll love it (or rather the lack of it :o))

    One thing – It’s coming to the big screen around summertime so if you’re going to read it, make sure it’s sooner rather than later.
    Warmest
    Rob

  7. As you can imagine, Robert, I did not like the lack of punctuation in this book. (I’m a proofreader. So sue me.)

    I just don’t buy into the idea that it adds to the starkness of the page or anything like that. It’s punctuation, for cryin’ out loud. Little tiny dots and hooks and such. Tiny. Unobtrusive. But there for a reason: to make it easier for the reader to follow your story and figure it out.

    I’m one of those “prove it to me” types about up-ending conventions like spelling and punctuation. I just don’t see how removing quotation marks and apostrophes made the story any better or gave me any more insight into the plot or characters. In fact, I found it highly distracting and sometimes I had to reread something to “get” it — because of the messed-up punctuation.

    When that happens — when you allow the reader to be brought OUT of the story due to formatting or errors — then you’ve not done your job as a writer.

    But that’s just my two cents on THAT issue.

    Aside from that, I loved THE ROAD. I found its ending a tad too tidy, though, given the bleakness of the rest of the story … but I was not upset with him for ending it that way. It was a relief, I suppose, that it didn’t end the way I feared it would end as I was reading.

    As for the movie (starring Viggo Mortensen, I believe), a bunch of it was filmed right here in Pittsburgh. A dubious honor, when you stop to think the producers asked themselves, “Where can we film this movie that already looks post-apocalyptic?” (sigh) Pittsburgh’s a nice place, really. 🙂

  8. The Road is the first major literary achievement of this century.

    Rob, really love your blog mate, has to be the best book blog out there. Could you please provide an option for your readers to add books to Shelfari, goodreads etc from the posts. That way we can all add your excellent choices to our own reading piles.

  9. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
    says:

    Nikesh,
    Thank for the incredibly kind words, although I’m sure they’re not quite so deserved.

    Thanks for the great suggestion on providing direct links for readers to add books to their own libraries. I’ll look into it.
    Warmest
    Rob

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