End of the world. Part 2

If, the previously reviewed, The Dream Of Scipio was a meditation on the end of the world as we know it, Cormac McCarthy's The Road marks a complete end to the world in an atmospheric post-apocalyptic novel.

A man and his young son travel through a blasted landscape denuded of most animal and plant life in an attempt to reach the sea. Constantly in danger from the "bad guys", who will murder a man for his meat, they walk across a still vaguely recognisable America following the remains of the eponymous road. The Road has consistently received brilliant reviews, and as a bit of a fan of apocalyptic fiction, I looked forward to reading it.

To be honest, I'm in two minds about how good it actually is. I suspect (although this may be very unfair) that if McCarthy was best known as a genre novelist, The Road would not have received the high praise that it has. I can certainly think of other great post-apocalyptic fiction - A canticle for Leibowitz, for instance - that received much less praise, although, I think, it is an equally great novel, even a better novel in terms of the narrative. So there is a certain element of snobbery that is possibly at work here. Don't get me wrong, in terms of writing The Road is a great novel. Beautifully, sparingly written, with a deconstructed approach to grammar that mimics the deconstruction of the world that the man and boy (they are never named) inhabit. McCarthy uses language beautifully, and some of the prose is worth re-reading just for the beauty of it.

Where the novel falls down badly is in the strength of its narrative. A simple storyboard technique would have illustrated quite clearly that it just ain't going to work. The man and boy have been wandering through a semi-annihilated world for probably 4 or 5 years, judging by the apparent age of the boy. During this time, however they have managed to keep alive by, presumably, happening across caches of canned food. All animals (what even the rats?) have died, yet humans gamely keep going. All plants have died, and yet edible windfall apples can still be found, and a mushroom is enough to keep you alive for several days. There were just too many gaping holes in the plotline for me. At first I was able to ignore them, purely because of the sheer beauty of the writing, but as hole after hole appeared, my suspension of disbelief gave up.

So - final verdict - this is an unbelievably bleak book, so depressing and powerful that I couldn't read it in bed as it gave me nightmares (not a common occurrence for the Bookhound), but also with some beautiful writing that I would urge anyone to read. Fans of literary fiction will probably enjoy it hugely, but for those brought up on science-fiction it will probably drive you nuts. I'm glad I read it, but don't know that I would read it again.


Popular Posts