BOOK REVIEW: THE ROAD
Cormac McCarthy (2006)
POSTED 3:38pm | 29 JULY 2011
In a post-apocalyptic wasteland a man and his son travel the long road towards the coast struggling for survival.
Yep, it's a pretty sparse premise for a pretty sparse tale told in a very sparse manner. An unspecified man and his son (probably around 9 - 10 years old) attempt to make an epic journey across a desolated country towards the southern coast in the hopes that they can avoid the harsh winter, trying to scavenge what little remains left in the world to survive, whilst hiding from or fighting off cannibalistic survivors, freezing weather, or the dark ash that covers everything. There are no animals left, or fresh food, or fresh water, or safe shelter, and 99% of the planets population is either dead or very far away.
It's not exactly a pleasant story to read, filled with the horrors that such a reality might bring, but neither is it exactly a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure. It's a very simple tale of father and son struggling to survive after the end of civilisation. McCarthy has written it in a very different manner as well, without the traditional chapter structure, and cutting out the majority of traditional punctuation as well - I think only full stops are used consistently, question marks and apostrophes very rarely, and no quotation marks at all - which, while it may heighten the themes of the story, makes it hard to get into the rhythm of the story until you're about a third of the way into it. I can see and understand what he was trying to do, but it just came across as pointless and frankly quite wanky to me, especially considering how inconsistent he used apostrophes. In the normal prose they are applied normally, but for the moments of what we are to assume is dialogue (there are no quotation marks, after all) he frequently breaks his own rules, going from lines like No, I dont think so (dropping the ' in don't) to I'm sure that's the way (leaving the 's in their correct places). Why drop them from some words only to leave them in others? If you're going to forsake correct punctuation for the sake of style then why not at least be consistent with it? In the end, the writing style, while not a deal breaker, is certainly a distraction. Punctuation is there to help writers accurately say what they want to say, not for stylistic effect.
Punctuation gripes aside, it's neither a bad story, nor poorly told. I flew through it quite quickly (about five sittings) and, if it weren't for time constraints, probably would have read it all in one. It's well paced, and the prose is very, very economical, but it really doesn't go anywhere. There's no great character development, no great climax, no real gripping moments - it's a very ponderous affair, written more to provoke the reader to muse philosophically than excite them with adventure, so if you're not inspired to muse whilst reading The Road (which I wasn't) then there really isn't much else to the book, sadly.
Not to say, of course, that it isn't a decent book or that I didn't enjoy it. I did enjoy it, but it didn't stir anything deep within me, and it seems that it was mainly written with the intent of stirring something deep within the reader. It's simply a personal response, but that's what books are all about, aren't they? It's all about how each individual responds personally to what the author is trying to say through what they've written on the page. No doubt some people were deeply moved by this book. In fact, judging by the critical response and all the awards it's won, obviously a lot of people had a strong positive reaction to this book. I didn't, and it's definitely the authors fault.
As far as a recommendation goes - of course you should read it and make up your own mind. It's not a weighty tome, it's short enough to breeze through over a lazy weekend, and it's widely considered one of the most important works of fiction of the new century, but I feel like if you don't make that personal, spiritual, philosophical connection to the story then there isn't much else to it that places it in the top one percent of modern fiction.
Book shelf: It's on there somewhere