Book Review: ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

August 24, 2009 in Book Reviews by pacejmiller

The movie tie-in version of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'

The movie tie-in version of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'

I first heard about Pulitzer winner ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy from one of my bosses at work a couple of years ago.  He couldn’t stop talking about this harrowing tale about a nameless father and son duo, making their way across the country in post-apocalyptic America with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a pistol, and each other.

Sounded promising, but it wasn’t until I was in the UK that I decided to have a look at it – and I must admit, my first attempt, in the Borders at Cambridge, ended up with me dozing off.  My second attempt, at the same Borders, didn’t fare much better.  I barely made it past the first hundred pages.

It wasn’t that it was badly written – in fact it was the opposite – but I just couldn’t get into it for some reason.  A lot of short snippets and images, casual dialogue, searching for and consuming food – over and over.  It was repetitive and monotonous, and felt like the story wasn’t heading anywhere.

HOWEVER, I didn’t give up on the book.  After my fellow blogger at theninthdragonking convinced me to give it another go, I bought the book on special and started from the beginning again.  And this time, I took my time, trying my best to imagine and visualise the type of world the characters were living in.  After the first hundred or so pages (which I still found a little slow and repetitive), I started to understand what all the fuss is about.  Of course, the fact that more stuff happened helped, but it was the harrowing images that McCarthy burned into my brain, and the touching relationship between father and son, that eventually got to me.

The world which McCarthy creates is dark, cold and terrifying, and I don’t just mean the natural elements.  Cannibalism, slavery and even catamites (for those who don’t know what they are, see here).  The darkest side of humanity is in full display.  It’s sickening and yet somehow rings true.  It is a warning to us all, but at the same time it is just a simple story about the unconditional love a father feels for his son and their will to survive.  It’s the type of book that can continue to haunt you long after you’ve turned the final page.

McCarthy is a brilliant writer.  He doesn’t waste words and he doesn’t colour his images with unnecessary or flowery descriptions.  You would probably see no more than a couple of adverbs every five pages.  That’s definitely something I can learn from.  Sure, for some reason he disregards a lot of punctuation in this book (speech and apostrophes in particular), but I didn’t have a problem with it.  I wouldn’t submit my manuscript like that, but he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, so he can do whatever he wants!

I’m very interested in seeing the movie adaptation starring Viggo Mortensen and directed by Australian director John Hillcoat, to be released in October 2009.  It’s a difficult book to adapt in so many ways, so I hope they can pull it off.  If it’s anywhere near as good as what they did with No Country For Old Men then it will be awesome.

4 out of 5 stars