Article published on June 25, 2015.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) is probably my worst and
best book of the 21st Century (so far). It is a psychological thriller
that follows a man and his son in a post-apocalyptic world.
The Road is a bleak and unnerving book that builds tension as
the pair negotiates a world with barely anything else in it. It is
a seminal text of the modern age and explores what could happen
to humanity if we do not exercise caution in international,
political or biological affairs. One passage presents a nightmare
situation that I could not stop reading but also did not want to read.
To allow me to continue reading I sought out the company of a sibling –
an unusual situation to be in when reading a book. Through the acute
portrayal of the man and his son’s loneliness McCarthy highlights the
importance of human companionship.
I had to tell people about The Road. The atrocities portrayed in the book moved me to share my fears of this reality with those around me. The father is suffering from consumption while they travel south in the hope that the climate will be more amenable and have more food and provisions. In parts of the novel the reader finds themselves in familiar situations: a town, house, boat. These still feel unknown as we are constantly reminded of the dangers around them. It is never revealed what has destroyed our world but the environment described is barely alive.
Throughout The Road the man and son talk through their experiences. Communication is key and in a world where the sun never shines they are ‘carrying the light’. They escape the prey of fellow survivors and starvation on their journey by using remnants of the old world and working together. McCarthy’s concentration on the father-son relationship is touching and the man teaches the boy everything he can; this includes reading and writing. In our current economic climate the humanities, literature and literacy are being neglected. This book adds weight to how our society cannot prosper without these skills.
Vital traits of civilisation are brought back time and again in this best and worst book of the 21st century (so far!). I left the bleak and desolate environment of the book grateful for the diverse world that we currently inhabit. On telling the story to others you bear witness to the testimony that we need to protect and preserve our world so that we are not confronted with McCormac’s vision. The Road strengthens the reader to confront one of the major issues of our time, that of sustaining our current civilisation. And don’t worry there is some light in the book.
Roseann Campbell, London
The Road by Cormac McCarthy was published in 2006 by Pan Macmillan
BB21C: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber