Cecily's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Oct 07, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: miscellaneous-fiction, dystopian, american-canadian, landscape-protagonist
Read in July, 2009

Phew. This is a brilliant, bleak, beautiful book, but an emotionally harrowing one, albeit with uplifting aspects (they always cling to a sliver of hope, however tenuous).


There isn't much. But that's fine by me. In the near future, a man and his son traipse south, across a cold, barren, ash-ridden and abandoned land, pushing all their worldly goods in a wonky shopping trolley. They scavenge to survive and are ever-fearful of attack, especially as some of the few survivors have resorted to cannibalism.

Much of the time almost nothing happens, yet that makes it all the more compelling.

The boy is very imaginative, empathetic, moral and scared - a difficult combination in the circumstances. There is a deep love and care between man and boy, each projecting their own survival instinct on to the other. In their anxiety, aspects of their relationship take on a ritualistic tone, and some of their conversations are almost liturgical, invariably ending with an assurance that they're the "good guys" and things will be "okay", yet without becoming banal.

Sometimes they are more wary of being seen than others, and at one point I wondered how much was "real" and how much might be imagined or paranoia, but that doubt passed. Whatever disaster caused the destruction (it is never explained) was some years before and the father realises that despite their closeness, in some ways "to the boy he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed."


Very distinctive and controversial. It is written in a sparse, somewhat poetic style ("cold autistic dark"), often detached (the characters are never named) and fragmented, to match the setting of the book. Even quotation marks and apostrophes are almost absent (used only where their absence might create ambiguity, e.g. we're and were).

Initially, I found this pared down language and especially punctuation distracting and infuriating, but when I let go of that, treated it as more of a poem, the minimalism became integral to my appreciation. In fact, it somehow enhances the impact of the story, rather than distracting from it.

If it were typset as a prose poem, it might raise fewer hackles. In fact I think I think one reason some people don't "get" this book is that they read it as a novel that hasn't been proofread, rather than immersing themselves in it as a prose poem.

Much has been made of the intriguingly odd phrase "The snow fell nor did it cease to fall", which leapt off the page at me and is also discussed on Language Log: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/....


A film is coming out in the autumn. It could be excellent, but if they try to make it too cheerful, it would lose its purpose.
UPDATE: I saw the film, and was impressed (and surprised), but still prefer the book.

WARNING: Having enjoyed this, I had high hopes for Outer Dark (my review here http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), but unfortunately I really didn't like that. I'm unsure whether to read more Cormac McCarthy now.
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Quotes Cecily Liked

Cormac McCarthy
“The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening.”
Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Reading Progress

02/04 marked as: read

Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-50 of 54) </span> <span class="smallText">(54 new)</span>

message 1: by Tintin (new)

Tintin Just watched the movie a while ago. It was haunting and poignant and beneath it all, beautiful. Do you think it's still worth it to read the book?

Cecily Yes.

I thought the film was a very good adaptation, but part of the power of the book is the extraordinary use of language, so I would still recommend it.

message 3: by Tintin (new)

Tintin ^Thanks! :) Will check the book out.

message 4: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca Hm. I've been meaning to read this for awhile, on the "I really should, it's important" list, but I never felt any real desire because I've heard the style was so hard to slosh through. Thinking of it as a prose poem might make it go down easier. Thanks for the thought!

Scott Hey I have a question. Is this book explicit? Moreover, does it have sexually explicit scenes? Thanks!

s.penkevich Great review! Did you ever end up seeing the film?

Cecily Yes, I saw the film. I thought it was a really powerful adaptation, with much of the same bleak beauty of the book.

Cecily Scott, I didn't get a notification for your comment, so have only seen it now I had a notification for s.penkevich's one.

Anyway, the answer is no sexually explicit scenes. Horror happens (various types of violence), but out of the main narrative, and not described in graphic detail. However, that doesn't mean it's a book for overly-sensitive souls.

Will Byrnes I loved this book as well, seeing it as a love story, a bright light set against a bleak gray background to thus gleam all the more. I particularly like your take on the liturgical feel of the communication between the pair.

message 10: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark Cecily wrote: "In fact I think I think one reason some people don't "get" this book is that they read it as a novel that hasn't been proofread, rather than immersing themselves in it as a prose poem"
I remember this phrase from a comment you made, I think, on my review of the book and it is brilliant. The bleak uncertainty of the whole thing expressed not only in words and phrases but even the way its set on the page

Cecily Yes, I do sometimes plagiarise myself. But so did Oscar Wilde, so I reckon it's OK. ;-)

message 12: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark oh sorry it was not meant as a criticism. I think it was wittily insightful....so actually perhaps the Oscar Wilde link is perfectly appropriate.

Cecily It's OK; I didn't take it as criticism (hence the winking smiley).

message 14: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark oops. I never notice those emoticons cos on my page they just come up as weird punctuation

Cecily Yeah, the "weird punctuation" is a winking smiley!


message 16: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark yep I already fell foul of one of these when someone appeared to be quite dismissive of something I had said in a rather brutal manner but when i wondered why he wrote 'Did you not see the emoticon' ?

MichelleCH I love how you mention that almost nothing happens...It's the emotional feelings that flow through the novel that gripped me and would not let go.

Cecily Mark, this 3-minute video is cool – and who realised you could do so much with emoticons?

Michelle, thanks. Sometimes too much plot can get in the way of what's really going on.

message 19: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark Gosh that was clever Cecily

message 20: by Kyle (new) - rated it 1 star

Kyle Wow, nice review. Even though I didn't like the book, your review almost (...almost) makes me want to try reading it again. :)

Cecily I often find that reviews that disagree with mine are the most intriguing and often enjoyable. If you do give this book another chance, just remember to think of it as a prose poem.

message 22: by Gary (new) - added it

Gary  the Bookworm I've had this in a pile next to my bed for years (booty from the laundry room). Your excellent review has convinced me to move it to the top of that pile.

message 23: by Dolors (new)

Dolors Nicely put, as I'm starting to notice which is very usual with your reviews, Cecily!
I was a bit weary about this book, I saw the film and it was so depressing and dark that I wasn't sure about the book...but, reading your review has arisen my curiosity..

Cecily Dolors wrote: "...I saw the film and it was so depressing and dark..."

There is hope, too, and beauty amid the horror and bleakness. If you can see the hope, I think you're more likely to enjoy the book.

message 25: by Dem (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dem Your review makes me want to read this wonderful book again as it still haunts me.

Cecily Thanks. I find it a brilliantly haunting book.

message 27: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Great review, Cecily. I love "cold autistic dark" as that fit perfectly.

Suzanne Arcand What a beautifully written review. Thank you very much for the link to language log. I put it in my favorites.

fivesunflowers Good point amount how much of their 'being seen' was actual realistic fear or paranoia. I started asking myself that quesion as well .. lovely review! I review every book I read, otherwise, what's the point of reading it if not to share your thoughts on it!?

Cecily fivesunflowers wrote: "...I review every book I read, otherwise, what's the point of reading it if not to share your thoughts on it!? "

So do I. I just wish I'd started twenty years earlier.

Teresa This is still the only Cormac McCarthy I've read so far. The sentence you mention that came in for some criticism sounds Biblical (King James version) to me, as does some of the other language in the novel. I thought its prose was great -- prose-poem is a perfect description.

message 32: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth For me this was one of the times that I preferred the movie to the book. I too wonder if I will dip into any more Cormac McCarthy.

message 33: by Anne Zappa (last edited Sep 24, 2014 06:13AM) (new) - added it

Anne Zappa I tried reading this book some time back & found the language too intricate. Looking up for so many words made me feel that I wasn't immersing in the story. Any tips? Should I just wait till my vocab expands or read the words in context.

message 34: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I'm a native speaker with what I would call a descent size vocabulary and I still run across books that give me trouble in that exact same way. For example, I'm reading Dracula (the original) right now. It's tough going in places. I have also been an English as a Second Language teacher. ESL teachers say read in context. What I have been doing is marking the margins and coming back later and adding them to my vocabulary lists (nerdy and/or anal, I know). In other words, don't wait. If nothing else, how will you know what words are lacking in your vocabulary until you read new words?

Cecily Ruth, I admire anyone who can read literature in a foreign language. I don't recall that this would have particularly problematic vocabulary (though it might); I expect the chief difficulty would be the rather odd writing style and the lack of punctuation. However, it's a book about atmosphere, not plot: I think you just have to immerse yourself in the feel of it and not worry too much about the precise meaning, as you might with a poem.

message 36: by Kim (new)

Kim I identify with Mohnish's comment about not being immersed in the story when you have to look up words. This happens to me when I read more complex works in French and come across an unfamiliar word. Even if I think I understand the word I still have to look at the dictionary to make sure. However, if I'm listening to a French language audiobook I forget about the dictionary and concentrate solely on the context. Audiobooks aren't for everyone, but they can help overcome a compulsion to use the dictionary.

message 37: by Anne Zappa (new) - added it

Anne Zappa Its kind of an overstatement calling English my second language, I've been studying it since the first day of school. This I think, applies to most Indians on GR. Anyways,I was particularly vexed as I read words like:

jornada - Spanish for day trip, working day

alabaster - a compact fine-textured, usually white gypsum used for carving

apishamore - a saddle blanket made of buffalo hide

thespian - a theatrical performer

withers - the ridge between the shoulder bones of a horse

carboy - a large container for liquids

These words aren't particularly from The Road, I just got them from a random McCarthy vocab list. I don't think I'm going to come across such words reading any other writer. So I was confused if everyone else just read these words in context or look for the actual meaning.

Thanks for replying Ruth, Cecily & Kim. :)

message 38: by Cecily (last edited Sep 25, 2014 12:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Kim wrote: "Audiobooks aren't for everyone, but they can help overcome a compulsion to use the dictionary."

They don't work for me, but that's a good point.

Mohnish wrote: "...I don't think I'm going to come across such words reading any other writer..."

Thespian is likely to crop up in all sorts of books, and even discussions of them - and of course, discussions of classic plays, such as Shakespeare. In fact, it's in my review of Wise Children (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which was next in my notifications!

Alabaster (particularly in relation to ornaments, such as vases) is quite common, too.

Withers is well-known to those who ride horses, but little used elsewhere.

The other three were new to me! Thanks.

message 39: by Anne Zappa (new) - added it

Anne Zappa I have a few books by McCarthy on my shelves that I want to read.



His other works probably needs to be read more assiduously. I'll give him another try with all the pretty horses.

message 40: by Apatt (new)

Apatt Great review Cecily! This book is such a downer it makes Thomas Hardy's stuff look like tea parties.

BTW, want to share your "Year in Books" link? Here's mine.

Cecily Apatt wrote: "Great review Cecily! This book is such a downer it makes Thomas Hardy's stuff look like tea parties."

Thomas Hardy tea party... ha ha.

Apatt wrote: "BTW, want to share your "Year in Books" link? Here's mine."

I've only just looked at mine (I've been off GR, unwell, and am about to be largely off, busy), and was rather disappointed by how meagre it looked (https://www.goodreads.com/review/list...).
Then I looked at yours and felt even more inadequate!

message 42: by Apatt (new)

Apatt Aw, sorry to hear you were unwell, hope you are fine now. I just heard on the radio that the weather outside is frightful, so you'd better keep warm so you can sleep in heavenly peace. Your reviews seem difficult to write maybe that leaves less time for reading?

Merry Christmas!

Cecily Thanks, Apatt. I'm on the mend, but festive arrangements are behind schedule.

It's not so much that reviews are difficult to write, but that I need a longer, uninterrupted, time to write them - whereas I can read in short bursts, if necessary. Also, some books can be written about more easily than others. But that's part of the challenge!

message 44: by Apatt (new)

Apatt Cecily wrote: "Thanks, Apatt. I'm on the mend, but festive arrangements are behind schedule...."

I imagine all that Jack Frost nipping at your nose must be very distracting, not to mention folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Cecily No Capaldi?

message 46: by Apatt (new)

Apatt Cecily wrote: "No Capaldi?


message 47: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa I too enjoyed the film, though not as much as the book (it's often that way for me). There's a new Cormac McCarthy adaptation that keeps popping up on my Netflix - Child of God. Have you read that? While the book was incredibly well-written, the subject matter plus the fact that it stars James Franco isn't making me think I should watch it anytime soon...

Cecily I've not read that. Much as I treasure this book, I wouldn't count myself a McCarthy fan.

Regarding adaptations, I find the only instances where I prefer the screen to the book is where I didn't like the book.

Hmm, on that basis, maybe I should look for the film!

message 49: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King What an absolutely super review Cecily. I'm just starting this book.

Cecily Thanks so much, Lynne. I hope you're enjoying the beauty of the writing, but left somewhat cold by the situation.

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