I was attracted to The Road, written by Cormac McCarthy, for a few reasons. Those who have followed this blog will realise that I an a fan of apocalyptic fiction and films, so that was the main attraction. Secondly, the Road won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and I have been concentrating on reading award winning fiction. Finally, I was intrigued by the movie No Country For Old Men, based on a novel by McCarthy.
The novel is about a boy and a man (who are never named) who are travelling along a road a few years after a nuclear war. The world is in the grip of nuclear winter and everything is dead. No food grows, no birds fly, all the trees are dead. It rains and snows frequently. The sun is constantly hidden behind thick cloud cover. The ground is covered in snow, but under that is a thick layer of ash.
The two main characters spend much of their time searching deserted, decaying and often burnt and flooded houses and shops for food. They only occassionally come into contact with other survivors. Each of these contacts is filled with tension as theft of food supplies and cannibalism are the norm. Apart from survival, the father has the goal of reaching the ocean at the end of the road, while the son has the goal that they remain two of the good guys: he is fearful his father will become a thieving murderer in his efforts to keep them alive.
The story pulls you in with tension as you fear that a confrontation with desperate survivors can happen at any moment. The man has a gun, but it only has three bullets. What happened to the rest of the bullets? What happened to the boy's mother? What will they find at the end of the road? From a fan of science-fiction who is sick of post-apocalyptic movies with marauding bunches of desperados - Mad Max did it, now get over it and find some other plot - I breathed a sigh of relief that the novel did not go down that path.
The book is beautifully written, with bleak descriptions of the dying world. His prose is sparse, and I can imagine the writer agonising over whether each word need to be included. Conversations are brief, a few words at a time, as there is nothing left to talk about.
It's a short novel, but effective with a very clear message: this is what the few survivors of a nuclear war will have to cope with so please don't have one.
One of the better novels I have read. One that I am sure will haunt my thoughts for years to come.