At 1am last night, as Melbourne sweltered through its warmest ever night, ( a minimum of 30.6 degrees celsius was reached only at 8.49am), I picked up ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy.
As the temperature gradually dropped through the 30s I plowed through his post-apocalyptic, grey, dark and snowy book. By 4.30 am I finished the last page.
Cormac McCarthy was born in 1933, and his 76 years on earth have gifted him a particularly bleak outlook. I was familiar with his work only by having seen the film No Country for Old Men. Which may have been the most powerfully horrible, morally destabilising film I have ever seen.
So I was prepared for the book’s epic-scale serving of bleak. I’d guess no book I ever read had the word ‘grey’ in it so many times. A man and his son traverse a post apocalyptic land (probably, but not identifiably, America) along a road full of the hopeless, the starving and the violent. The Road.
Four years have passed since the calamity, perhaps a meteor strike, perhaps a nuclear attack. Food is very nearly gone. Every tree they pass is dead. The landscape alternates between black areas (the subject of ‘firestorms’), and ashy areas. It rains and snows a lot. The sky is never clear. There are no animals left. The cities are full of corpses.
The book could be read as a thriller, or as an extended metaphor. The man and his son carry their possessions in a shopping cart. So they move on a dangerous, meaningless, one-way journey through an empty and meaningless environment, living for survival and kept alive by the possessions in their shopping cart. The natural world is dead to them. Violence is necessary. Charity is beyond their means, and the sole generosity they attempt is met with defiant apathy.
Is this environment the result of man’s actions, or a natural event? McCarthy doesn’t ask. Either way it reads as inevitable.
Given the tone of the book, I thought the ending was comparatively hopeful.
I give The Road ten out of ten relentless miles of starvation, threat and existential misery. Read it before the movie comes out.