I have to thank Vanessa for lending me The Road and saying (after I first declined to borrow it) that it’s quite a good book but it’s also one of those books that you either love it or hate it. It’s always a pleasure to be surprised by the quality of a work when reading a writer for the first time and Cormac McCarthy is no different fortunately.
Wandering a Barren Earth
In brief, The Road is a post-apocalyptic story where a boy and his father journey from where ever they are supposed to be towards the south, to the sea. They seldom encounter life and when they do (or think they will) it’s usually someone in a much sorrier state than them or its the ‘bad guys’. As they make their way on foot, we get glimpses of the dismal surroundings, an occasional grotesque scene and the hardships of starvation, loneliness and uncertainty. The theme of hope and love is represented by the relationship between father and son.
Quick Prose with Subtext
What I liked here was the prose. While I’d normally be irritated at writers who choose to change convention with things like quotations or sentence construction etc.. the fact that there was no punctuation other than full stops (or the scarce comma for subclauses) didn’t bother me one bit. In fact it made the experience all the more enjoyable because McCarthy opted for short simple sentences, which represented both the urgency and the bleakness that the characters faced.
The descriptions were at the right level, not too detailed or gory but occasionally hinting at that, which left a lot for my imagination. They also added to the novel’s bleakness as well without going into overkill. The boy and his father – both nameless – had short, succinct dialogue, just enough to reveal what kind of characters they were and the relationship they had without any narrative explanations needed to elaborate on this. McCarthy certainly has a technique all of his own at work here and it’s simply beautiful.
The Plot Holds Back
What bothered me was the repetitiveness of situations making the pace slow. Twice I thought I was going to deal with the boy and his father starving but then they would stumble upon a stash of food. Likewise I thought at several junctures in the story they were going to face the ‘bad guys’ but this never materialized, and I’m still not sure what to make of the action scene at the end of the book.
Basically McCarthy painted a picture of people who were cannibals and ‘evil’ but I never encountered them. That left me wanting… and yet, was that the whole idea – the power of suggestion? Or the fear the characters had of the unknown that helped spur them to their goal?
Which brings me to another point, the goal seemed bleak too! Why head South to the sea when you don’t even know for sure that there are other ‘good guys’ alive or where they may be. I suppose all this points to the plot and my dislike of its deployment. One gap too many for the me to fill which didn’t make it come across as tight enough or convincing enough. I think the emphatic focus on the boy, his father and their relationship outbalanced the plot and the action involved with it, this in a story where the plot would have been as equally useful.
McCarthy for me
I’m curious now to read some more of his novels. I’ve read about some of them and they seem interesting enough. I’m interested in his style of writing and how different or similar it will be across his books.