A man called “Man” and a boy called “Boy” walk down a road called “The Road”. Ok those aren’t literally their names, they just don’t seem to have any. On purpose. McCarthy wants the story to be about people as opposed to characters. People struggling to survive in a world that’s fucked. Everything is dead, burnt and smouldering. There is also no indication what caused this apocalypse, it is just enough to know that absolutely nothing lives. Not even fish or cockroaches as far as I could tell. This bothered me a bit because it seemed pretty impossible but again, it is about the journey and humanity and so on.
I really liked this book although I don’t think it necessarily deserved a Pulitzer. It’s not up there with The Old Man and the Sea or The Color Purple but it is really good. It stuck in my mind for several days after, which is always a good sign.
There are a few things that might bug you though. The conversation is without quote marks and is usually just a string of fairly repetitive short sentences. The fact that it is cold and ashy is a bit bludgeoned into you by dint of it being mentioned every few sentences. The man and boy are heading south to avoid another winter but why didn’t they just leave in the spring? On bicycles?
These finicky issues aside, the Road is a superb and haunting book. Whenever they meet other people it is tense and there are some genuine moments of horror (as most people have turned to cannibalism). McCarthy explores how far someone will go for someone they care about. It is at moments of strife that the real characterisation of the protagonists occurs and this is well done. These moments are fairly few and far between but that just adds to the suspense.
The book is grim and bleak – as I’m sure was fully intended – and you really get sucked into this grey depressing world. Think England in February but with no people. It is ultimately about redemption and the nature of humanity when everything else has been stripped away. It turns out humanity sucks.
As I said, I liked it. It is best read in a single sitting or two, which is easily done, to allow yourself to get fully drawn in. The descriptions are vivid and the story and images will lurk in your subconscious like the memories of a grim walk on a cold and cloudy day in Slough for days afterward. Definitely worth a read. Unless you are already depressed.