review by Gabriel
I wanted to read this before the movie came out. I always prefer to read the book first, because otherwise the plot is ruined and I can’t help but picture scenes from the movie while reading, which stifles my own imagination. Nonetheless, being aware of the upcoming movie, I couldn’t help picturing Viggo Mortensen in the central role, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it seems like good casting. Also, he’s a bit awesome. Even with odd facial hair.
The Road is about a man and his son , trying to survive in a post–apocalyptic future. They roam a burnt, barren landscape, searching for food and avoiding the gangs of people who have turned to robbery and cannibilism. It’s a strong hook, and could just as easily be the plot for pulp fiction rather than a novel by a celebrated contemporary author. It was a bit hard to get into for the first thirty pages while McCarthy established the bleakness of the world, as well as because of McCarthy’s unconventional style. However, the novel soon becomes as addictive as the premise promises, and this was one of the first books that caused me to forego sleep and stay up late into the night, reading by lamp light. As the story progresses, McCarthy increases the tension as every possible horror is realised, and the net of starvation, illness and savagery draw tighter around the pair.
What raises The Road above books with a similar premise is the way the writer uses the situation to comment on the human condition. The world surrounding them is savage and cruel and full of despair, but the man stubbornly tries to maintain hope and morality in the boy, who in turn inspires his father. They believe that they “carry the fire”, an effective metaphor for civilisation and faith, and their desperate clinging to goodness in a mad, fallen world is poignant and inspiring.
The Road sometimes threatens to tip into sentimentality, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the novel’s conclusion. However, if the rest of the story is good enough, a writer can get away with a bit of cliché or corniness. At the time of reading, I found the ending extremely moving due to the tender and sensitive way in which McCarthy had rendered the relationship between the boy and man. It was only on reflection that it seemed a little too neat, and that a resolution that required more spiritual fortitude might have been more uplifting (I’m really struggling not to spoil anything).
Maybe I shouldn’t read the covers of books. Not only do they often contain spoilers, but they usually include choice quotes from critics saying things like “masterpiece” and “breathtaking”. In addition to the usual dust jacket fawning, my copy of The Road also includes several pages of exerps from glowing reviews. This, combined with the critical hype surrounding The Road, made me approach it with expectations that were bound to be disappointed. Instead of a masterpiece, I got a very good book, which is nothing to complain about, really. Recommended.