Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (My Hero)



I don't normally do book reviews , as there are loads of others on Blogsville, in my opinion, who do it so much better than i ever could; however, i am willing to make an exception for this one book.

This book left me completely wrung out emotionally. I read the last 10 pages on the train on the way to meet up with a friend on Saturday, and as my eyes kept tearing up, i had to constantly battle not to let the tears spill down my cheeks; although after a while, i was beyond caring. Such is the power of this book. It's totally amazing!

Until a couple of months ago, i'd never even heard of Cormac McCarthy. Now he is my ultimate literary hero and i am going to read every book he has ever written!

I saw an interview he did with Oprah a while ago and i remember him striking me as someone completely comfortable in their own selves and comfortable with who they are. Not at all caught up in the hype that accompanies being featured in Oprah's Book Club. In fact, he actually said he didn't care that millions of people now read his books. He only hoped that people who would appreciate his writing read his books, the numbers being completely inconsequential. Never mind that i had no clue who he was or even that he'd won the 2007 Pullitzer prize for his latest novel, The Road, i was completely transfixed by his intellect and his ideas and wasn't surprised to subsequently find out he is an academic and a scientist, no less.

Right from the opening pages, i was hooked! Hooked, and also filled with a feeling of dread. I'm not exagerating when i say i wore a permanent wince throughout my reading of The Road. Incidentally, No Country for Old Men, the Oscar nominated movie is based on one of McCarthy's books, and my reaction throughout the film was the same.

The story chronicles the journey of a father and son to the coast, following a natural disaster, or even perhaps a nuclear holocaust. We are not told what has happened, however, it is clear that the world as we know it, has come to an end. The landscape is completely burnt out, the air is filled with ash, vegetation and animals are all dead and the few human beings that remain are divided into two distinct camps - the good guys and the bad guys. The ones who eat other human beings and the ones who don't.

The father and son do what they can to survive. All they have is each other. Their story is so beautifully imagined, and beautifully told. In fact, it's hard to come across a single review of the book which does not use the word 'beautiful'. But in contrast to the beauty of the often heart-wrenching relationship between the boy and his papa as they spur each other on to continue against all odds and to hold on to their humanity even as all those around them lose theirs, there is a palpable sense of dread and terror, as they live in constant fear of the 'road agents' who capture survivors enslave them and keep them for food.

The man is ill and constantly coughs up blood, but even in the face of near starvation, freezing temperatures, death and despair, he carries on for the sake of his son. They often go days on end without food or even the hope of it, but they carry on. The man has a pistol with two solitary bullets in it. We are told that his wife committed suicide at some stage, entrusting the boy to his father, knowing that he would continue on, if only for the boy's sake. The man has taught his son how to position the gun in his mouth and fire in the event of anything happening to him.

Cormac McCarthy is 73 years old, and became a father late in life i.e. in his 60s. The book is dedicated to his son, and he admits that it probably would not have been written at all if he did not have his son. He tells of how he was in a hotel room in El Paso, late one night, his son asleep. He looked out of the window down on the town below him and at the hills in the distance and imagined what that town would look like in the face of devastation. That was where the seed for the book was planted, although the story wasn't completed till 4 years later. He said when he writes it's like taking dictation. As if the story has already been written in his subconscious and when he sits at his Olivetti typewriter, he is simply writing down what he's being told. The book was completed in a few weeks. Amazing!

In the interview, McCarthy also tells of how his primary objective in life was always to never have to work. As a result, he went through lots of hardship, three marriages and unimaginable lack. However, he says no matter how hard things were, something always turned up in the nick of time e.g a cheque for $20,000 for a fellowship, a sample size tube of toothpaste in the mail box, just when he had run out etc. This theme is echoed throughout The Road. Just when your heart is breaking for the wretched pair, they would stumble across a cache of food and supplies, retrieve their stolen possessions from a thief who is really just another man trying his best to survive.

Some say the boy is a figment of the man's imagination. Something he makes up to give him a reason to keep on going. Others say the boy is a type of Messiah, 'carrying the fire' that is going to save the rest of the world. Me, i leave the analysis to more seasoned book reviewers. As i mentioned earlier, the ending of the book is heart-breaking. Literally. The whole book just blew me away, and it's a testament to author that he is able to endue such a simple story with so much poignancy. Without giving too much away, I love this book. I gave my copy to my friend to read, but later found myself regretting it because i wanted to read it all over again.

If you only read one book this year, let it be The Road.

Oprah's interview with Cormac McCarthy

22 comments:

akin said...

If this book can have this kind of effect on you, it must be worth checking out..

Florida of Free Spirit said...

never heard of d book. but will check it out. How r u dear?

Atutupoyoyo said...

Ah welcome to the McCarthy appreciation club my dear Undacova. Cormac McCarthy, along with Annie Proulx and perhaps Philip Roth, is easily in a slect group of America's greatest living writers. I actually haven't read The Road yet but it will now accelerate to near the top of my reading list. If you haven't picked it up yet then get thee to a bookshop and purchase All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. The movie adaptations pale in comparison.

guerreiranigeriana said...

wow...nice review...you weren't bad at all;)...i am intrigued and want to read the book...but because you say you were crying in the end, i hesitate to pick it up...i know undoubtedly i will cry and be heavily affected by the book and i usually try to steer clear of such books/movies/etc....but because you have not told the end of the story, my curiosity is brewing...we shall see if i go read this jewel...thanks for the review!!....

UndaCovaSista said...

@akin - You won't regret it.Trust me..

@florida - I'm fine, thanks..Hope you're fully recovered now ;). Get the book!

@atutupoyoyo - OMG! I dont know how i could have missed him! Please read The Road. It has Modern Day Classic written all over it!!! As for his other works?..i'm on the case

@guerreira - Let me try and clarify...It wasn't the kind of crying i cried at the end of Titanic - which was a cheap manipulation of the viewer's emotions for cinematic value. It was more of a bitter-sweet acceptance of the inevitable, whilst wishing things could have been different. Please don't be put off...it's well worth reading

Jaycee said...

Your review has driven me to not neglect my 30% discount at Borders book store. A book that's so moving and compelling is definitely worth having. I thirst for talented writers such as McCarthy. Now I know...lol...thanks to u.....wow.

Naapali said...

I have not read your post yet and will leave a comment after I do. However, i wanted to write this as an unbiased comment on the book. That was the last book I finished and I took a break from reading to process the book and its implications. Leaving stylistic comments aside I still ponder on the content and pervasive theme of how vulnerable we are and how thin the veneer of humanity and civilization is. I think about the pederasts and their catamites and wonder if humanity as truly evolved or if our civilization is a cloak we wear. When I hear about the horrors in Kenya, or Darfur or reflect on recent horrors in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda I fear we are not what we think we are.

Now off to read your post.

Naapali said...

So now I have read your review and endorse it as capturing the essence of the book. One thing that carries the reader as well as the central characters of the book is Hope. Hope in the face of complete hopelessness. As I read the book, I kept thinking of passages from the Lord of the Rings. Especially of Frodo and Sam in Mordor, making their way through the burnt land, constantly under terror of being found out and not only losing their lives but failing everyone that depended on them. I think about the Man and the boy (who are deliberately left nameless to make this more personal for every reader I think) and how they continue in the face of the same hopelessness that overwhelmed his mother. I ask myself what would I do? What is the meaning of life and should one keep on even when all seems lost? It is a truly powerful book. If you read one book this year then The Road is as good as any. If you read a second book then it should be Jose Saramago's Blindness. (He incidentally did not start writing until his late 50s/60s and still managed to snag the Nobel).

Meanwhile Undacova"War and Peace"sista I hold you in higher esteem for getting and writing about this book. I will reply yours soonest.
Cheerio!

30+ said...

How intriguing. Will be on the lookout for it, although like guerreira I try to steer of teary books 'cos I get too heavy on em.

Bunmmy said...

heard of him, been off the lit circle for awhile, this would b a good book to break in again. Nice review.

Pink-satin said...

will go checkout the book!

UndaCovaSista said...

@jaycee - you're welcome...and it is well worth reading. it really is

@naapali - i know what you mean about taking a break from reading to process the book! And yes, Hope...that's exactly what keeps them and us going.

It's interesting that you draw comparisons between this and the Lord of the Rings. In my response to Guerreira's comment, i was going to liken the ending to the bitter sweetness of the ending of The Return of the King, but i didnt.

You also raise some interesting questions re: civilization and humanity. Food for thought...

I will check out Blindness. Re: the other, no worries :)

@30+ - See Naapali's comments. Hope provides a balance, i think. Don't be put off..

@Bunmmy [the blogger formerly known as Hopeful b? :)] - Thanks, and it would be a fantastic book to break in again with...

@pink-satin - I cant recommend it highly enough...

Olamild said...

Nice

Arewa said...

Excellent review.. this dude owes u big time cus u have convinced me to go get this book. Mr and I had already planned to go see No Country for Old Men this weekend. I hope i enjoy it .
Hope u r doing ok, stay blessed .... x x x

Afrobabe said...

Ok, I skipped the main story cos I want to read it...I am presently reading Half of a yellow sun by Adichie and I swear its as good as all the reviews...

I love good books and will def be reading the one you just finished...when you post it over!!!

UndaCovaSista said...

@olamild - thank you :)

@arewa - it's a good film (i enjoyed it anyway). You really should get the book too...I'm fine BTW. Mwah...

@afrobabe - Don't worry, i didnt give anything away. And no need for posting now. I'll just bring it over when we come to wash your new job :)

Afrobabe said...

lol....really? that'll be nice...

Writefreak said...

I am so gonna look for this book! Thanks for doing the review!

Nyemoni said...

Thanks for this girl...I shall look out for his books and let you know as soon as....have a good week!

bllk wolf said...

hmmm!!yeah!yeah!yeah
reviews hmmm...
ok o!
il be back

Naija chic said...

This got me excited as am a sucker for good books/read. SO am of to waterstones!

UndaCovaSista said...

@afrobabe -i'm sooooo not joking :)

@writefreak - you're very welcome

@Nyemoni - Looking forward to it. Have a lovely week, too :)

@bllk wolf - Hey dude...

@naija chic - It's a fantastic read!