The Road is ostensibly about a man and boy surviving day to day following an untold apocalyptic event that has left the world barren and shrouded in darkness. They are attempting to find salvation by reaching the coast, all the while battling the elements, crippling hunger, other survivors and the voice in their heads saying that they’d just be better off dead.
McCarthy pared down prose echoes the landscape in a way that is at first very difficult to get used but then becomes integral to experience of reading this book. Some of the passages truly are poetic. This book is an example of when less can be infinitely more; when what isn’t said or described is almost more important than what is. This is goes even as far as leaving the characters nameless. It’s a subtle way of allowing ‘the man’ to be any man; it’s not Bob Smith wandering the around, it could be anyone – including you. It doesn’t matter what his name is because it says nothing about who he is at the world’s end.
The simplicity of the sentences belies the complexity of story and the skill of writer and this meticulously realised post-apocalyptic hell feels all too plausible given the current way of the real world. The words bleak and unforgiving in no way do justice to this book. The unremitting misery of the character’s fight for survival can feel as choking as the foul air that they are breathing, but beneath the desperation is a story of true love and hope. There is a touching balance and inter-dependence between innocence of the boy, who has known no other world than the one buried under ash, and the father, who knows full well how it will all end.
The book has a lot to say on our relationship with the world, and particularly man’s drive for survival and proclivity for searching for meaning, when all meaning appears lost. The story works best when it is just the man and boy making their way along the road; I found that some of the subtleties of the meditations on life and god are lost on occasions where they bump into strangers and ‘the message’ seems a little shoe-horned in. That said, these encounters managed to convey more on what it is to be human than countless other entire books.
The end left me with a strong mix of heavily conflicting feelings, and I know that most will not be happy with it for one reason or other. This book will really stay with me for a long time because it is the first that has ever made me genuinely cry from having really cared about the characters, and for that, I can’t praise it enough.