The Road by Cormac McCarthy

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one then what had gone before…”

The first sentences of the book immediately draw the reader into a world so utterly different from anything we can imagine, that one cannot stop reading to find out more about it. It is not just a dark world, but also a manifestation of the greatest fears one can have of the modern world leading humanity into an apocalypse. A world without hope, a world filled with purposelessness, placing life in a lifeless world.

The book leads the reader into a world set after a nuclear holocaust ending the world as we know it, creating a desert devoid of hope and full of despair. The story evolves around a man and a child who battle for survival in a world without any order, filled only with death and a few scattered people trying to survive yet another day. Cormac McCarthy uses a unique writing style, abolishing grammatical conventions, mingling sentences together. He chose an ice-cold narrative and a deadly factual style, putting the language right on par with the world he describes.

“The boy was sitting up wrapped in his blanket.
What is it?
Nothing. I had a bad dream.
What did you dream about?
Nothing.
Are you okay?
No.
He put his arm around him and held him. It’s okay, he said.
I was crying. But you didnt wake up.
I’m sorry. I was just so tired.
I meant in the dream.”

The book not only deals with the philosophical implications of a world without hope, but also with an obvious conflict in the relationship between the two protagonists. Whereas “the man” does not wish to discuss the past or to mention anything about the life before the apocalypse, “the child” who was born into this new world asks many questions, waiting for answers.

None of the characters in the book has names – not surprising, as this fits perfectly into the narrative McCarthy has chosen. The otherwise so somber story has small glimpses of hope, which have been placed in such sharp tones that they only highlight the hopelessness of the situation.

“Do you think there could be ships out there?
I dont think so.
They wouldnt be able to see very far.
No. They wouldnt.
What’s on the other side?
Nothing.
There must be something.
Maybe there’s a father and his little boy and they’re sitting on the beach.
That would be okay.
Yes. That would be okay.
And they could be carrying the fire too?
They could be. Yes.
But we dont know.
We dont know.”

The book has an amazing twist towards the end, which makes the reader shudder and think. The true beauty about this book, however, is the thinking it initiates about the reader’s own life and where he/she stands in this world. This book was directly made into a film last year, carrying the same title, but was also partly the basis of another film, “The Book of Eli”. Both films try to encompass the world McCarthy describes but fail to convey the same feelings one has about oneself after reading the book.

The novel won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 2006 and was also awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Be enchanted by a beautiful narrative – not beautiful because of the aesthetics of language, but because of every word carefully chosen to accompany a story and a feeling you will never forget.

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About Sebastian Müller

Sebastian Müller was born and raised in Leipzig/Germany and moved to England as an adolescent. He is a trained research chemist and geneticist and is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut Curie in Paris/ France working in cancer research. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and is still actively involved at the university today. He is fluent in English, German and French and has many fortés and interests including science, philosophy, linguistics, history, competitive sports such as rowing, fitness and nutrition. He is a freelance writer also drawing from his experience as an author in peer-reviewed scientific journals. "I love writing and putting my thoughts down on paper. The written word to me is one of the most powerful ways of conveying thoughts and initiating discussions."
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2 Responses to The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  1. Pablo R says:

    You write that the events of the book take place after a “nuclear holocaust.” This is not true. While McCarthy describes a “shaft of light” that precedes a “series of low concussions” never once does he claim the destruction was nuclear, or even man-made in nature. I’ve been in a few discussions (which I will spare you) about this topic and the general consensus seems to be that the disaster was likely a meteor or asteroid; nothing evil or intentional, just nature doing its thing.

  2. Dear Pablo
    Thank you very much for your comment. Your claims are valid and it is absolutely fascinating to see your interpretation of the subject. For sure, McCarthy avoids any such claims, as it is obviously not central to what he wants to convey. The book leaves much to imagination and one can read a lot between the lines. A “series of low concussions” however, do not point towards a single impact of an asteroid. Furthermore, if he had witnessed an asteroid and the thus emerging “shaft of light”, he would have to have been close to the epicenter of impact and most certainly dead. In addition, his notion in the book was to know exactly what was going on and he filled a bath of water; that is a hint towards a nuclear happening.
    Nevertheless, you are right, McCormack does not explicitly claim this and I think this is very much left open to the reader to fill in. Isn’t that one of the beauties of the book? Also, both interpretations open two completely different avenues of interpretation and philosophical debates. I am glad you wrote this and thank you very much again for your comment.