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Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” Book Review

Photo: Knopf

Imagine Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, set in the future, plus two relatable protagonists, and you have The Road.

The Road is one of my favorite books, hands down. I love reading books that are post-apocalyptic, for the reason that I always think that there is something to be said about how humans behave when the end is near.

Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men, is one of the most influential writers of the 21st century. His books always explore human morality, and the equal capacity for good and evil that all of us have. The Road is, and will remain, a poignant example of this, exploring ultimately the consequences of the choices we make as humans.

The novel begins with a portrait of desolation; it is explicitly described that the world has been destroyed, with sparse life left alive.

“And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders.”

We are then introduced to the two protagonists, a man and his son, as they wake up to this world and continue their journey along “The Road”, which they are following to reach the coast before the winter begins to set in.

It’s haunting, to say the least, with passages describing the “soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop” and “charred and limbless trunks of trees stretching away on either side.” The poetic imagery immerses you in this quiet, cold grey world with the Man and the Boy within the first chapter, allowing you to travel this desolate earth with them. You face the human monsters that they face, the hardships that they experience, the hopelessness and despair that they must fight against as they struggle to “carry the fire” of altruistic human nature in an evil world.

The story is not filled with intense action or suspense, but provokes horrors that are extraordinarily scary for the sole reason that they could well likely be true, if the world became post-apocalyptic.

All one needs to do is observe examples in history, such as the Donner party and 1972 Andes Flight disaster, to see that in times of desperation, humans are willing to do anything to ensure their own survival.

As a precaution, I should say that this book is not for the faint of heart. The imagery at points is terrifying, so well-described that you can see it playing out perfectly in your head – never mind the ill-attempted film adaptation with Viggo Mortensen.

Reading the Man and the Boy’s harrowing experience, you’ll find yourself questioning what you would do if you were placed in their respective positions, and what decisions you would make, forced to choose between self-preservation and what is right and wrong. At its core, it forces you to question what beliefs you hold, and whether you would give them up at the end of civilization as we know it. And with that, I leave you with this quote:

“Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence.”

  • One of my favourite books of all time! McCarthy is always so bleak but his prose is beautiful. Great review.

    • Michelle Hsu

      Thank you very much! Definitely one of my favorite books as well 🙂