The recent film of The Road (starring Viggo Mortensen, and unfairly neglected at this year’s Oscars) may have brought Cormac McCarthy’s ‘piece de resistance’ novel to an even greater audience. However, the film’s understated power remains secondary to the deeply moving, bleak, and yet oddly life-affirming experience of reading The Road. When I first read this book, upon its release in 2007, I was fond of saying to friends that it was the best book I’d read in the last five years, and that it was truly ‘the novel for our time’. Yet, as time passes, and McCarthy’s vision of the future seems more prescient every day, I am beginning to think that The Road is one of those books (like Nabokov’s Lolita, or Wharton’s Ethan Frome) that will stay with me throughout my life. The Road’s great success is that it warns us of the prospect of a future that is brutal, violent and miserable, but unlike McCarthy’s starker novels (for example, Outer Dark), within this grey world we find humanity at its very best: the love of a father for a son; the enduring power of that love when all else is lost. Some readers may have shied away from The Road, fearing its rendition of a post-apocalyptic world might be too bleak to bear, but it is McCarthy’s tenderness towards his main characters that really sets this novel apart from his others. At its heart, this is a story about the qualities that make us human, and how we can hold on to these, even in the bleakest and most desperate of circumstances.
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