Cormac McCarthy (4 stars)

The Road (Picador)


Cormac McCarthy has spent over 40 years examining human frailty, from the cowboy myths of his acclaimed Border Trilogy through the more contemporary concerns of last year’s No Country for Old Men. In his latest novel McCarthy projects his vision of an inhuman post-apocalyptic fug that perhaps predictably holds no fantastic technologies or revelations. Instead he paints an austere landscape, half-lit by an obscured sun in which humankind has been reduced to its most base and basic function: survival. The story itself follows a man and his son as they journey south through a regressive American wasteland, scavenging for whatever morsels of food they can find and avoiding contact with perhaps the only other living beings on the planet, cannibalistic humans.

The reader joins the pair with their journey already underway and is offered a blow-by-blow account of their trials. Doing away with chapters, McCarthy structures the narrative like the unfolding events themselves, in a seemingly endless sequence of paragraphs. Into this minimal frame the author injects stark philosophy and narrative suspense while maintaining a plaintive picture of strife and futility. The scene that McCarthy sets is thus wholly convincing and the story, though bleak in the extreme, proves utterly compelling, offering glimpses of both the best and worst of the human condition in its darkest hour. Rejecting the fanciful preoccupations of the science fiction genre, the 73-year-old’s step beyond presents an ambiguous yet timely glimpse of our pending fate.

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