As a student of English literature I read a lot of books, novels in particular, both for my studies and for pure pleasure. These range across all genres from literary fiction to science fiction and fantasy to crime. I have read many books which I have found interesting, many I have enjoyed and even a couple where I the writing was simply exceptional. It is a rare occasion however when I come across a novel that both thrills me and haunts me, living with me for months, even years after I have finished the last line. Such literary works change me, alter my world view. Wuthering Heights is one such novel. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is another.
In brief The Road follows an unnamed father and son as they travel across a post-apocalyptic America in search of the sea. That is as little of the plot that is necessary to illustrate here as the book is not about this journey. It is about so much more. With this short novel McCarthy manages something truly amazing, posing the largest religious, philosophical and ethical questions without ever appearing didactic. He examines the nature of fatherhood, the nature of love, the function of hope in the human heart without ever breaking from his minimalist, functionary prose. Alan Warner in his review for the Guardian suggests, ‘All the modern novel can do is done here’. That praise is not too high.
Later in his review Warner proposes the prose is ‘as perfect as early Hemingway…Shakespeare is evoked’, and ‘The way McCarthy sails close to the prose of late Beckett is also remarkable.’ He further comments;
‘They are unlikely relatives, these two artists in old age, cornered by
bleak experience and the rich limits of an English pulverised down
through despair to a pleasingly wry perfection.’ (Warner)
Hemingway, Shakespeare and Beckett; three giants of literature. I would not disagree with the comparisons.
There is something else at work here which stayed on my skin long after the last words had echoed into the darkness. Seemingly effortlessly McCarthy subtly draws the intense relationship of a desperate father and son. His portrayal of the Man’s love for his child is searingly beautiful, unflinchingly brave and breathtakingly honest. The book is dedicated to John Francis McCarthy, the author’s young son. He haunts every page. I first read the book when my own son was three months old. Slowly coming to terms with the life changes this brings I was filled with an odd sense of awe. What did it mean to be a father? Could I be one? It is exactly these questions that McCarthy poses across the pages of The Road. Only partial answers are offered but it is enough. I am not ashamed to admit I cried several times while reading this amazing work of literature.
The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for McCarthy in 2006. It was inevitably made into a motion picture in 2009. There was controversy surrounding its selection for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club and a subsequent infamous interview McCarthy gave for the show, but this is all just window dressing. From the moment I began to consider undertaking the MA in Modernities I knew this would be the book I would complete my dissertation on. I urge you to read it at your earliest convenience. It will soon be consider a classic of the cannon, one of the greatest novels written in the English language, in this era or any era. It really is that good.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. London: Picador. 2006. Print.
Warner, Alan. “The Road To Hell.” Rev. of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Guardian.co.uk. 4 Nov. 2006. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.
Road – Clip 5 – He’s a God. Youtube.com. 25 Nov. 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.