Where does one begin in reviewing a novel of this importance?
Well, first let’s reflect on its critical merit. It won the Pulitzer Prize last year. I have a great affection for both this and the Booker Prize as I believe they award great, and readable, books. I had a trawl through the Pulitzer archives to see what it came up with. Have a look yourself. You might be surprised as to what has and hasn’t won.
For me I’d read the following winners;
The Road 2007
The Shipping News 1994
A thousand Acres of Sky 1992
To Kill a Mockingbird 1961
The Grapes of Wrath 1940
(Jeana had also read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields that won in 1995.)
With the exception of A Thousand Acres of Sky I would put every one down as a stonewall classic. (For the record I think Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven is a far more interesting read than 1,000 Acres.)
Anyway, returning to The Road in particular, Tom Gatti of The Times says on the jacket “It will knock the breath from your lungs.” and I cannot disagree.
This post-apocalyptic novel is fearsome, chilling and very scary indeed. Honestly, it’s like watching a superior horror film, so visceral, taught and fast flowing is his writing. My other favourite post-apocalyptic book is Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood which is also very frightening, but has a less foreboding sense of inevitability about it.
As is his wont McCarthy brings God in a fair amount. Fair enough when you’re one of the few remaining souls on earth. But he does so with a lightness of touch that is utterly in keeping with the narrative.
In the hands of the right director and cinematographer – ah, Mr and Mr Coen, do step forward please – this would make a multi-Oscar winning movie because his plotting and imagery is so breathtaking. Like No Country for Old Men he paints a visual tableaux throughout the book that is screenplay-like. But the depth and quality of his language is what raises him above most living writers.
Compare him to one of my favourite oft-filmed writers, Ian McEwan, and you can see why McEwan is accused of writing for show (many accused him of this in On Chesil Beach). McCarthy never does this. Everything is stripped down and considered. Every last word.
He has a habit of concluding conversations between the son and father when big decisions are being mnade between them with two words.
Of course, without the punctuation.
I thought this simple device said much more than you could ever imagine the repetition of two duplicated unpunctuated words ever could.
The device demonstrates trust – deep, deep trust – love, commitment, understanding, conviction, resolve and determination.
How does he do that by simply writing…
Because he is a genius. That is how.
The relationship between the main protagonists, the father and son, is heartbreakingly close, loving, tender and harrowing. On more than one occassion I was close to tears. Their fear is palpable as the events unfold.
No preaching. No heavy handed political metaphor. Although many believe that this is one of the most important environmental statements ever made and I am inclined to agree with that because it so clearly demonstrates what life without a functioning planetary ecosystem might be like. I tell you what, you wouldn’t like it.
It’s just a wonderful story about the human condition. Draw from it your own conclusions.
I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. Far and away my book of this or almost any year.
There is no question that this is required reading for the human race.
PS. Just in case you think I’m being overly enthusiastic I’ll put in a word of warning. A friend of mine said it was “a bit boring.” I quite honestly can’t comprehend why he thought that, but he did so hey, I’ve warned you.
But, if you buy this book on the back of my review and you find it a bit boring, I’ll pay for it for you.
PPS Since writing the above I note that a film adaptation of the novel is currently in production. It is directed by John Hillcoat and written by Joe Penhall. The film stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the Man and the Boy, respectively. Production has taken place in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Oregon.