Archive for The Border Trilogy

The Road

Posted in Books with tags , , , on June 4, 2011 by xi'an

“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…