The Road

“Well, I think we’re still here. A lot of bad things have happened but we’re still here.”

The Road was the book of Cormac McCarthy’s I first wanted to read, before I decided to start his books with the Border trilogy (The Crossing, All the Pretty Horses, Cities of the Plain). I just read The Road on the plane to Glasgow and in the wee hours of the next morning (daylight comes very early in Scotland at this time of the year!): The Road is a masterpiece! The story is told in a very sober almost clinical tone, with a minimum of details about the post-apocalyptic world both characters travel (or rather plod) through, the dialogues between father and son (whose age is quite indeterminate, between seven and ten, I would guess) are terse but translate very well the love and support they draw from each other. Even though the production of the corresponding movie had an impact on my reading the book, I have not seen it and do not plan to do so as the strength and brilliance of the book does not rely on action or even danger, but rather on how hunger, cold, deprivations bring father and son together. The story is told from the father’s point of view (it stops a few pages after the father dies), so the son remains a bit of a mystery, only revealed through the dialogues and the way he carries on in a doomed world, still caring for other humans when his father has hardened himself towards survival. (There is sentence towards the end where the boy replies to his father that he is the one who has to care about everything…) I would go as far as stating that the story has little appeal from a science fiction perpective: only a few humans have survived the apocalypse (how? the book does not tell…) and scrap the ruins of this world for canned food, most of them resorting to cannibalism when the manufactured food cannot be found. Apart from those few survivors, there seems to be no other living being, except for a dog heard once, and the flora is gone as well, dead forests burning in the background and ashes everywhere as father and son aim for the sea (which ends up being as dead as the land). What is amazing is that, within this half-made, rather unrealistic, world, McCarthy manages to make the trip of the father and the son so intense and believable that I had to keep reading if only to check they were still alive on the next page! I presume the book could instead be read as a parable about the meaningless of life and the absence of God, just like The Crossing (which is also an hopeless trip towards an empty goal), but I’d rather view The Road as a poignant tale of survival and purpose in a purposeless and dying world. A strong book with a lasting influence…

6 Responses to “The Road”

  1. […] Even though I should have expected it, finding my access to the WordPress admin portal of the ‘Og blocked in China came as a shock! The issue of this censoring by Chinese authorities is well-documented on a WordPress page (that was accessible in Shanghai as well) and I will not go into details: this has been the case for several years and other bloggers’ sites are similarly censored, often permanently. However, I also found it curious that I could still read WordPress blogs, including mine, and hence see my successful attempt at posting my slides for O’Bayes 2011 by email. This easy if partial bypassing of the unavailable admin portal somehow proves both the capacity for causing trouble and the lack of coherence of the censoring services… Another illustration of this incoherence was provided by the on-line availability of an article I read at Shanghai airport in Le Monde discussing (in a bizarre way!) the censoring mechanisms in China. (The great title for this post was suggested by Alessandra Iacobucci, in an ironical hommage to Cormac McCarthy!) […]

  2. Anthony Says:

    “To hell with suspense.” – Kurt Vonnegut

  3. Manoel Galdino Says:

    And what about a spolier alert?

    • As I already wrote to Julien, I frankly do not think it matters if we know that the father dies, it is a sure thing anyway. And spoilers are needed in action and detective stories, not in psychological novels. I would think a truer spoiler is that the father and the son love each other beyond the possible, in this dead world…

  4. “It stops a few pages after the father dies”… Bravo Xian for the spoiler, you’re almost on par with Télérama (who spoiled Sixth Sense) ;-)

    • As I wrote above, the science-fiction-ish story itself is of little importance. We know from the very start the father has pneumonia and coughs blood on a regular basis. Thus, the fact that he dies at some point is understood from the first page. And, naturally, because the whole book is about this love between father and son, the book stops when the story stops.

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