Monday, March 10, 2014

Apocalypse now

"Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever." So the nameless man in Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece The Road warns his nameless son. It's a truth that, by the end of the book, rings out loud and true for the reader too - once digested, it's not a novel that be easily forgotten.

I came to The Road with fresh eyes, having not seen the film or indeed read any of McCarthy's other books, and I was blown away by its power. For someone like myself, whose writing style has a tendency towards excessive verbosity and embellishment, McCarthy's prose is an object lesson - spare and taut, though with a beauty in its simplicity that I haven't felt from reading Ernest Hemingway, whose style might otherwise be regarded as quite similar. Like the central characters whose journey it describes, the language is emaciated, bare bones, but possessed of an incredible inner strength that prevents it from breaking down. The dialogue too is brilliantly handled - as much left unspoken as is given voice.

The style might make it a relatively easy book to read, but the same cannot be said of the subject matter: the pair's trek across an America destroyed by environmental apocalypse. As these two tiny specks of humanity make their way across the desolate and blasted landscape, new horrors seem to lurk at every turn.

And yet, even if the reader is inclined to turn away from the page, recoiling in disgust, the father and son refuse to flinch - remaining strong, sticking steadfastly to their mission in the face of terrible adversity and thereby earning the happy ending (of sorts) that has appeared out of reach if not impossible throughout the novel.

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