by Cormac McCarthy
Once you pick up your copy of The Road and start reading, you will not put it down. You will keep reading because you do not dare put it down for you know that you might not only never it pick it up again you might never pick anything up again, so great is your despair. And you will keep reading in the hope that Cormac McCarthy will take pity on you. After a while, you will realise that it is too late for pity. You will clutch at the sliver of grey light McCarthy offers, but it is slim recompense for the loss of the sun.
So why pick up the book in the first place? If you have avoided post-apocalyptic fiction and were never tempted by the oeuvre inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, you may be feeling the pressure now. As the disaster scenario unfolds, writing about the end of post-industrial life on this planet no longer fits neatly into the category of science fiction or environmental neurosis and writers from Margaret Atwood to Jeanette Winterson have decided to address the issues more directly than ever before. So it is that McCarthy brings his bleak observation of human nature to a time not so far in the future as All The Pretty Horses is in the past.
The Road follows the journey of a nameless father and son as they travel south along a highway seeking refuge from the cold and their fellow survivors. The pair wear masks to protect themselves from the ash filled air and tie plastic sheeting to their feet in place of shoes. The earth is dead, burnt trees fall in the forests and scavengers roam in search of human flesh. At the end of the world, depravity is boundless and the vision of hell that McCarthy paints is only relieved by our faith in the archetypal parent and child, the ‘good guys’ as the boy reminds his father. In their struggle and in their love we may see ourselves reflected and find some small chance of redemption. McCarthy’s skill is to make us seek beauty in the chasm of the human soul.