23 December 2007

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 2006

A nameless father and his son head south on the roads of America after a nuclear war, hungry, wary and often on the run. The Road proves that it’s still possible to conjure gripping stories from the thinnest of plots, and the frequent negotiations between the man and his boy read like an unspoken transaction: the father has to remind the boy of the need for courage, and equally often the terrified boy, who has never known any other kind of world, must remind his father of his humanity. It’s the absence of any back-story, which one might expect from a fully realised bona fide science fiction novel, which made me think no, this isn’t SF – any specifics as to what brought about a nuclear war would be irrelevant to the emotional heart of McCarthy’s story. His pared-down prose echoes their spare existence, making this a grim and bleak read, and I wonder if T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’; may have formed part of McCarthy’s inspiration (“I will show you fear in a handful of dust”). It’s just a shame that The Road doesn’t quite live up to some of the adulatory excesses of the 32 pull-quotes used on the cover of the UK edition; nevertheless, still an excellent and necessary book.   PY

  The Road won both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and the 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was also a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award.


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