Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Where do I even begin? With the writing…The prose in The Road has a rhythm, a cadence, a measured finality. A weight. Sentences, like the fictional world they describe, are stripped away to their rawest state. There are no wasted adjectives, no superfluous descriptions. Which is good, because any overzealous sketching of the horrors that McCarthy has imagined would only serve to vulgarize them. There is an incredible amount of restraint in this prose, and a resulting tension running below the surface of each sentence and every paragraph. And then just at the right time, the restraint eases off and the lines abandon themselves to a nearly reckless emotion.

From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated in a theatre with her beside him leaning forward listening to the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar folds of the drapes at either side of the stage. She held his hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze this frame. Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned.

What will I remember? The images, the impressions…

The universe of The Road is not a comfortable place to get lost in – monochromatic, scentless, dirty, scarred. The overall impression is one of darkness, both physical and psychic. Humanity has been stripped of its unifying bonds, nature tortured to death, beauty become irrelevant.

Yet this barren landscape serves to underscore the pure beauty of the relationship between the father and his son. They set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.

What are my questions? With the conflict…

The real conflict in the novel is not played out between the father-son team against the roving cannibals or even against time, although these two challenges are what give the story its forward propulsion, the real conflict lies between the father and the son as they negotiate their disparate visions of existence. Fear, benevolence, compassion, sapience, rage – how much of each is needed for survival? What is “good” behavior and why is it still important in this new world? What does the future mean to each of them?

A thoroughly disturbing but courageous piece of fiction.

8 Responses to “Cormac McCarthy – The Road”

  1. Wendy

    Great review! I agree with your thoughts about the conflict in this novel. The Road is a book I will read again.

  2. Stephen Lang

    Very well put. I’ve been thinking a lot about the father-son conflict/relationship and how it plays out through the novel. For me, the ‘key’ to the book is in its denouement – I find it very symbolic – what happens, why and what it will lead to (but I don’t want to give any spoilers away).

  3. verbivore

    Hi Wendy, I will also read it again. If for anything, for the pleasure of getting lost in the writing. Thanks Stephen, I agree with you about the denouement. It’s a very tricky moment in the book and hard to interpret, I’m still thinking about it a week after finishing. I love it when a book has that effect on me.

  4. acquisitionist

    Wonderful review. It’s now on my wishlist.

  5. verbivore

    Thank you acquisitionist (great name!) and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

  6. Matt

    Nicely done with your review. This was the first book I read this year, it was an excellent read. I am now reading McCarthy’s Blood Meridian which I am liking even more than The Road. His writing is incredible, not sure how he squeezes so much out of each word.

  7. verbivore

    Thank you Matt, I’m going to have to try another McCarthy, The Road being my first. Please let me know how you get on with Blood Meridian – I’m glad to hear you like it even better. Bodes well for my second read!

  8. mel

    I enjoyed “The Road”. It kept my attention on a long plane ride. To me what has stuck in my head is the several references to “squid ink”, I think because where I reside it is often used in cooking.
    I know this is not what the author wanted us to think about so that kind of amuses me somehow. I would sum up the book as Hemingway does Mad Max!

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