‘The Road’ – again

I wrote the other day about seeing the film of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Coincidentally, this fine assessment of the book by James Kidd appeared in the Independent on Sunday:

Not even John Hillcoat’s recently released film adaptation can prepare you for the slow freezer-burn of McCarthy’s original.  In a shade over 300 pages, he conjures environmental desolation and physical deprivation and human degradation, not to mention the most poignant father-son relationship committed to paper. It is all narrated in the most spare and beautiful prose imaginable, which resounds with echoes of Milton, Beckett, Yeats and the Bible, yet is also entirely McCarthy’s own: “Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.”

First published in 2006, The Road has taken only three years to become a bona fide contender for the title of Saddest Novel Ever Written.[…]

The Road‘s ubiquity alongside these enduring gloom-narratives pays testament to the sheer virtuosity of McCarthy’s literary melancholia. True, there are heady moments when our protagonists find shelter from the storm, but the respite is always fleeting, and only intensifies the many shades of darkness that remain: the horror-show of the figures in the basement of the deserted mansion; the landscape blasted by who knows what; and the existential depiction of man’s struggle to survive in an uncaring world.

What gives the story its heart and its heart-break are the characters of “Papa” and “the boy”, who bicker and reconcile, despair and console, all the while trying to survive with their humanity intact:

“I dont care, the boy said sobbing, I don’t care.

“The man stopped. He stopped and squatted and held him. I’m sorry, he said. Dont say that. You musnt say that.”

The pathos only increases when one reads the story in terms of McCarthy’s own life. McCarthy dedicated The Road to his young son, John Francis, whom he fathered well into his sixties. Is the book a “Papa’s” legacy to a son he probably won’t live to see grow up, combined with a cri de coeur about the world that will be left him? How much more poignant are the whole-hearted exchanges of the final pages, which fuse resignation, grief and a glimmer of hope:

“You have my whole heart,” the “Papa” says. “You always did. You’re the best guy… If I’m not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you.”

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