The Road – Cormac McCarthy

The RoadAs I mentioned earlier, I have taken up the gauntlet set down by The Insatiable Booksluts and accepted their reading challenge.

To start with I chose Cormac McCarthy‘s pulitzer prize winning The Road.

A seemingly easy transition from the kind of pulp literature I am used to, I figured that this tale of a post-apocalyptic journey would ease me nicely into the less comfortable literary faire that sits on the Pulitzer list.

It was also to hand as a work colleague had kindly lent it to me after a conversation about how much I hated the film No Country for Old Men.

As The Road has also been translated to film, I’d mentioned that I hadn’t read it and would prefer to read it before seeing the film – lest the films imagery taint the author’s own descriptive talents.

I started reading at 19:30, after a light meal of Lemon Chicken and Rice; I finished at 22:25, with just enough time to watch the first two episodes of the eagerly anticipated second season of Mongrels on BBC3.

Now three hours isn’t by any means a record for me.  I think James Herbert’s The Rats currently holds the record for me, with a total reading time of 51 minutes beginning to end; but maybe that’s just  Herbert.

Within moments of starting out, I was completely wrapped up in McCarthy’s prose.  The nameless lead and his boy moved from scene to scene, carrying me, the reader, like an unseen guardian – impotent to help with the predicaments they face.

McCarthy’s descriptive prose is subtle enough to leave a lasting hint of the devastation and desolation the two wander through.  A dank and dusty world of grey, black and white.

Some of the more visceral scenes were not as shocking or disturbing as they were probably intended and in this regard I blame the hundreds of hours spent playing Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, where scenes of cannibalism and torture are the norm.

Whilst it is worth reading The Road for the scene setting alone, it is the interaction between Father and Son that really hooked me in.

I’m not a parent myself but McCarthy had me feeling that sense of paternal protection from the get go.

Most interesting of all is the disparate points of view between Father and Son, in particular the way that the Father tries to protect his Son from viewing scenes that the child has grown up with.  The Father seeks to protect his son from the more severe and charnel scenes of change in his world; the Son has never known a different world.

McCarthy also caused me to question the contemporary definition of Good and Bad.  The Father and Son see themselves as the Good Guys but as the story evolves, the Son’s infant understanding of Good and Evil in terms of black and white are contrasted with the Father’s shades of grey.

This manifests at its best in the Son’s silence, as he presumably mulls over the perceived wrong-doings of his Father; a silence broken when his Father gives honest justification of previous actions. As the relationship unfolds we see the Son understanding the reasons behind his Father’s actions but I’m left with the impression that the Son disagrees.

All in all, I enjoyed The Road.  It’s a little maudlin but thought-provoking at the same time.

Definitely worth spending a few hours on.

I’ll certainly not turn my nose up at other offerings from McCarthy and I will definitely seek the film out now but I think I’d like to try something more cheerful for the next challenge.