Author: Cormac McCarthy
Book: The Road
Book in series: 1 of 1
Release date: 2006
A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other.
THE ROAD is a book which has stayed with us long after reading. This isn’t just for one obvious reason, but for everything that makes this book what it is. The story is really beautiful – a man and his son surviving in a desolate America. THE ROAD doesn’t tell us what has happened to the world, and the story is completely focussed on the journey of these two characters; there’s no saving the world or a ruling government here. It shows how a book can still be dystopian even if there is no strict society behind it.
One of the first things you notice about THE ROAD is how names for characters aren’t used. Instead they’re known as ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy’ which somehow adds a slightly poetic feel. Also, Cormac McCarthy uses barely any punctuation, which creates a style to show the simplicity of their journey. There are no speech marks used at all in the whole 307 pages of the book, which we have never seen done anywhere else. You might think this would get confusing (how would we know which character is speaking?) but it is phrased and positioned in the text so cleverly that you just know who it is that is talking.
This book is one of the most realistic versions of the future you’re likely to come across. It deals with the fundamental idea that humans really will do anything to live a day longer. THE ROAD deals with some pretty horrific ideas around the issue of no food, which builds a lot of tension throughout the entire book – you don’t really relax until about an hour after finishing it. This does mean that it might not be suitable for some of our younger readers, but the whole book is written so beautifully that the goriness is not off putting.
It took us a second time of reading THE ROAD to notice how the boy looks out for the man, and that it is not just the dad who takes responsibility. As there is little food, the man’s focus is on keeping his son from starving which means he goes without food himself. The boy keeps him in check and is extremely aware for someone so young. It shows the harsh reality of what children can be exposed to, just like children of war are in our own world.
Symbolism is the one thing that stops this book from being unbearably bleak. In the whole book there is one image that the man talks about and that is the idea of the fire. He talks about the need to carry the fire inside you, and how it is up to each of us to keep it safe. It’s about focussing on the light in life and not letting the bleakness swallow you up. It is such a powerful message that is so relevant to our own society where mental health problems are bigger than ever.
Whilst this book is really inspiring, it comes with a heart wrenching ending. Even though it is incredibly sad, it really is the perfect conclusion to the book as it sums up the entire message of THE ROAD in a way that wouldn’t really work if it had been done differently. If you decide to read this book (which you most definitely should) make sure that you are not likely to be interrupted as you will probably want to savour every last word. Oh, and have plenty of tissues at hand – trust us, you’ll need them.
Age recommendation – adult