The Road

“What’s the bravest thing you ever did?
He spat in the road a bloody phlegm. Getting up this morning, he said.” – Cormac McCarthy, The Road. 

It’s odd to review a book that you’re actually in the process of reading, but I’m finding this one so compelling that I don’t want to wait.


The Road, presents a vision of a post apocalyptic future where a father and son journey south across a barren ash filled landscape. Along the way, they encounter very few other travellers (‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’), who they are instantly wary of – in a post apocalyptic landscape devoid of other life, humanity seems to have resorted to cannibalism.

“You have to carry the fire.”
“I don’t know how to.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Is the fire real? The fire?”
“Yes it is.”
“Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”
“Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it”

We the readers don’t know much about the ‘man’ and the ‘boy’, or indeed what caused the apocalypse. We know that the ‘wife’ or ‘woman’ left the family early on into the post apocalyptic world, we presume to kill herself away from the plight of the man and boy. We know they journey with only the possessions they carry in their bags or shopping trolley. We know they have a gun with only two rounds left in it, to use ‘when the time comes’. Every day is a struggle for food and survival. Every day is a love story about father and son.

You have my whole heart. You always did.

McCarthy has a beautiful way with prose, that is not pretentious or indeed overly simplistic. I’m reminded of the great quote from Pascal “If I’d had longer it would have been shorter”, as he seems to wonderfully convey the required sentiment easily, without resorting to unnecessary verbosity (unlike me!). What interests me here however is that on the face of it, it’s a really dismally bleak subject to read about – yet it is utterly compelling as a book.

By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.

I was fascinated to read that the book is widely hailed as one of the most significant environmental books, as it sets out an environment where the biosphere has ceased to function. It’s a chilling prediction on what could happen if we don’t curb our excess of our natural resources.

Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence.

The book raises interesting questions about our behaviour post-apocalypse. In the absence of food, what would you do to preserve life? When all around you seems hopeless, what does it take to make you carry on?

He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.

It’s been turned into a great film, which I’d heartily recommend (I know, I know – I’d have been better talking about this yesterday than Katy Perry!)

“How would you know if you were the last man on Earth?” He said.
“I don’t guess you would know it. You’d just be it.”
“Nobody would know it.”
“It wouldn’t make any difference. When you die it’s the same as if everybody else died too.”

Nicola and I are reading this, and have had a number of conversations about this one point: Does the man display a great courage to strive on and find a way for them to live despite the apparent bleakness of their situation, or does he rather display cowardice not to end it? He has a gun that could put an end to their suffering, yet they journey on. What do you think? Answers on a postcard (on in the comments) please!

“Listen to me, he said, when your dreams are of some world that never was or some world that never will be, and you’re happy again, then you’ll have given up. Do you understand? And you can’t give up, I won’t let you.”

Image credit: Feldbum, made compellingly bleak by me 🙂

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