Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Reveiew : The Road - Cormac Mcarthy*****

The world has almost ended, some life destroying event (which remains undescribed) has killed the plants, the birds, the animals, all that remains are a few scattered humans surviving on the last food supplies of their decade dead civilisation. Walking through this post-apocalyptic nightmare are a man and a boy, the man's son. They are following the road south to escape the bitter winter, the man's stated aim is to reach the coast where he feels they might have some chance of survival. Along the way they have brief, terrifying encounters with other survivors, armed militant gangs, people reduced to cannibalism, the desperate dregs of humanity in a dying world.

It is also no co-incidence that the only other living thing that the man and the boy encounter is a patch of mushrooms, fungus, a thing that that only exists by feeding from death and decay, it's a powerful metaphor for the remaining humans in the world.

The man has become hardened and inured to the horrors around him, although he does everything he can to ensure the boys survival, there is nothing in him that speaks of real hope and it is often the boy who, as children do, expresses empathy for others.

McCarthy has written a strong post-apocalypse sci-fi novel in The Road, for fans of this particular genre there are echoes of other novels in the book, John Christopher's Death Of Grass, Stephen King's The Stand and The Postman by David Brin all contain themes similar to McCarthy's novel. The Road though is altogether bleaker and more desperate than any of it's forerunners.

The physical structure of the prose has been deliberately designed to add to the feeling of the dead, grey world. Along with everything humanity has lost, their names have gone as well, not once do we learn the boy's name, and although father and son possess a map, the names of roads, towns and rivers are never referred to. There are no quotation marks to denote dialogue in the book, not a single 'he said' or 'the boy replied' and the flat feel of the writing on the page deliberately mirrors the lifelessness within the novel itself. This might sound as if the novel itself is flat and lifeless, but I found myself instantly drawn into the world of the man and the boy and their awful, desperate struggle for survival.

The Road has been acknowledged as a modern classic, winning the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction and garnering positive reviews from many heavyweight literary critics, and it is a strong and gripping novel. The themes of love and humanity examined under the most terrible of circumstances are equally captivating and horrifying, you can't help but be transfixed and held by The Road's forlorn and wretched journey.

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