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Book Review: ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

November 4, 2010

I love reading books and always have a number on the go at once. Not surprisingly most of the books I read are about the Christian faith, but I also enjoy biographies and books on political philosophy. My fiancée criticises me for only reading ‘geeky’ books and challenged me to read some fiction and furnished me with a copy of a book which I had recommended to me by my friend Martyn Pass. The Road by Cormac McCarthy was the book she handed me and I read it in the first few days of my summer holiday and more recently we bought and watched the film which, unlike most book-to-film ventures, stuck pretty faithfully to McCarthy’s narrative.

Whilst saying that I enjoyed the book would be taking it a bit far, how could anyone enjoy a book based up on topic so bleak, I would certainly recommend it as a really great read. There are three aspects which make this book particularly good. Firstly, the author makes the setting of his book so very gripping authentic and believable. The story is based in a post-apocalyptic America and precisely what has occurred you never find out, but the way the world is created and presented to the reader makes is so throughly believable. The world is full of desperate survivors and they continue to ‘survive’ in some pretty awful ways, including cannibalism, and it would be so very easy to give up on the book if horror wasn’t your thing but for the fact that by the time the author reveals this to you, it is possible to see why, given the situation people would commit such acts. One of the main characters in the novel, Papa, spends quite a bit of time battling suicidal thoughts, after his wife chose that way out, and again you are led to understand why, given the world around them, many people would consider taking such a  step. It is a credit to the author’s ability that he creates a world where actions we would normally find reprehensible become so understandable.

The second aspect, which makes this book particularly good, is the two main characters which we make the journey with. We are given no names, perhaps in such a world names have become meaningless, and we know the characters as simply ‘the man/Papa’ and ‘the boy’. We follow this father and son team as they battle to survive as they head south, hoping to find a better world; and its the great characters and their interaction, which keeps you glued to the page. The father, longing to protect his son and give him a life, and the son who seeks to do good to all those around him. The boy knows nothing of the pre-apocalyptic world yet is constantly demonstrating that what separates us from the beasts is our ability to do good and tries to keep his father from abandoning his moral decency. The two make a great team and there are some great scenes where questions of morality are battled out between the two main characters.

The third aspect then is what comes out of the book, the overall story and what that story has to say and how it challenges us in our world which is perhaps is not so different to theirs. The story is one of great darkness being slowly overcome by the light an innocent boy. If at first the author challenges the reader to understand the morally questionable deeds done in such a bleak environment then by the end of the book, the author is again challenging us to choose between living in darkness like those around us or to choose to live a different life with all the sacrifices that come with it. The boy does battle for the light, despite his desperate situation, and never gives into cynicism or selfishness which seems could so easily overtake the best of us in such a situation. This challenge which the boy gives, firstly to his ‘Papa’ but ultimately to the reader is one of a choice between light, which means self-sacrifice, the seeking of community over individualism and the fight to do the right thing even if that leads to your own death. Such themes led me inevitably to think about the Christian message. A boy who comes to a dark world and lives a remarkable life, so much so that the Apostle John can say ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it‘ (John1:5) and whilst later John would say the the world prefered darkness to light (John 3:19) nevertheless he recorded the startingly offer from Jesus ‘I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness‘ (John 12:46). Perhaps then, without knowing it, my fiancée had given me a book about faith after all.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 10:21 pm

    I have been looking for my new book of the week and I really do love faith based books so I am glad you reviewed this.

    • February 8, 2011 10:23 pm

      Thanks Jacqueline, its quite a hard read but really makes you think! Not sure whether the writer would call himself a Christian or not…

  2. March 29, 2011 11:50 pm

    This is such a powerful book – and a powerful review. As bleak as the post-apocalyptic world is in which they live, the boy manages to carry the light within, and in so doing, helps keeps his Papa sane.

    I saw the movie, which is among the most haunting I’ve ever seen. It took me days to push a few morbid scenes from my mind, but at the same time inspired in me the need to begin a little food storage… because you never know what will become of this world, growing increasingly darker as time marches on.

  3. May 19, 2011 12:55 pm

    Nice review Mike….I Saw this Movie and it’s awesome 🙂

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