The Road, by Cormac McCarthy is a bleak post-apocalyptic novel following a unnamed man and his son as they travel across a withered earth. We follow their journey as they pick their way across a world ravaged by an unknown cataclysm, fleeing south towards the coast to escape the harsh winter.
The Road has a poignant sense of isolation, descriptions of poisoned landscapes paint a picture of a faded, leeched-grey world.
At first, the isolation seems stifling. However, before long we are shown that there is safety in solitude.
A band of decrepit scavengers demonstrate just how far humans have fallen, how they have become feral predators in this empty world, and we see just how far The Man is willing to go to protect his son.
McCarthy’s writing style eschews the conventions of modern writing. None of his characters have names, they are often referred to simply as ‘The Man’, ‘The Boy’ and so on.
He also avoids using much punctuation, dialog isn’t contained within quote marks, it blends into the rest of the writing, a part of the landscape McCarthy paints for us. Lone voices lost in the atmosphere of desolation, rather than instances overlaid on top of the setting.
The bleak tableau of The Road is interspersed with nightmarish scenes of gut wrenching brutality. Horrific scenes of savagery and desperate, degenerate violence strike the reader as frighteningly plausible, and show what the remaining people have to do to survive in such a hostile and toxic land.
As the Boy and his father trudge across a dying America, they occasionally find brief moments of respite and comfort amongst the ashes. An early scene where they share a can of Coca Cola recovered from an abandoned market is a touching demonstration of the tenderness and warmth of their bond. However, the tenderness in these scenes feel finite and make the inevitable return of bleak reality that much harder.
The Road is heavy with symbolism, no event or character is trivial or without a deeper meaning. This combined with the lack of exposition gives the book a nebulous air that establishes the atmosphere of cold hopelessness more firmly than a thousand words of dialogue ever could.
The Road isn’t a long book, it’s quite a slim tome, but long after you finish it will stay with you. Its oppressive and haunting atmosphere will stick with you long after you’ve finished.