Monday, February 8, 2010

cormac mccarthy, the road

With the movie showing in cinemas and depressing people worldwide, I thought it was about time I read Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning original book. I debated over whether or not I should read the book first or see the film first, but frankly, I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to whisper, “Well, that’s not how it went in the book,” or, “In my professional opinion, the leading man should have been played by Rupert Grint and the leading lady would have been much better if she were me, and also I would put in extra sex scenes.” So, to the book I went, in a hurry so I could catch the movie early in its run.

From the start, it’s obvious why McCarthy won a Pulitzer. He has an absolutely amazing writing style, rendering his bleak post-apocalyptic world clearly and beautifully and, somehow, different every time he describes it. Not to say the word “gray” (uh-mericans, honestly, it’s “grey”) doesn’t get bandied about generously, but he does amazingly with the world he gives you. Which is, really, just grey.

The Road tells the story of a man and his son as they venture forth in this newly defined Earth to find, well, hope. Their ultimate destination is the coast, but they do not know what they will find there. The man has hope for the beaches he remembers, but his son knows nothing of the world he describes. When, early in the book, they find a can of Coca Cola, the man is thrilled he has something to share with his son from the world as it was, as it is now to us.

Vegetation is dead; all that is left is cans of food, trolleys as transportation, and not nearly enough clothes or shoes. For those who are not interested in peaches and Spam, there is one, more unsavoury food option of the Soylent Green variety. Those on the road who ticked this box in the lifestyle choice section are the reason that the man and the boy are so cautious; the reason that the man has a gun in his pocket with two bullets left.

While the idea of two men on a road trip to the beach usually calls to mind catchy tunes and hilarious shenanigans, this is an unrelenting tale of what you could become in a world where you are starving, where you wonder at night if you could bring yourself to kill your only child if the circumstances called for it. Where you tell yourself and others that you are the good guys, but when faced with the worst, is it possible to remain good?

The odd punctuation, where the man and the boy hadnt and couldnt do this or that but I’ll do this and you’ll do something else, is strange but remains appealing and signifies the skewed world the man (and therefore the reader) now inhabit. Despite how awful the subject matter is, it remains a beautiful book, as the rest of the world—who already appears to have read it—and the Pulitzer committee have already said. McCarthy’s dry style of writing, and the appalling conditions of the world and the people, becomes almost numbing after a while; so that when horrific scenes are played out you sit quietly on the tram and think, “oh”, rather than fall to the floor in tears as I am wont to do in certain tearjerking books.

Flaws were few and far between: only two jarring sentences made me fold over the page corners. “The snow fell nor did it cease to fall” threw me out of the book due to the strange syntax, and towards the end the boy—who, by all appearances, has learned exclusively from his well-spoken father—says, when asked if he remembers something, “I’m not a retard.” Notwithstanding my dislike for the word in that context, it was out of character and I could not quite establish how he came to know it. These are little things, and I could probably be convinced of why they are in the book; it doesn’t matter, as any novel that has only two (debatable) problems still deserves to be heaped with accolades.


  1. I read it over Christmas for the very same reason you did... so we gonna go see it together, or what?

  2. The Nova Cinema had a screening of the film with a debate afterwards on 'what was better, the film or the book'. I'd only read half of it, and the movie is very faithful to it's spirit. I found them both beautiful even though the journey is relentless and monotonous. I couldn't stop thinking about the story for days.


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