The really sexy thing about language is its ability to build us up and strip us down, leaving us in either a state of immense and stuffy pride or cold, naked and alone in the night time.
Cormac McCarthy does both.
With only a man, a child, a road and a whole hunk of ashy nothingness, McCarthy breaks down the ideas that seem to be made completely permanent only by the amount of time they have stuck around.
And this is what is so hauntingly beautiful about The Road.
Without giving too much away, the novel follows the survival of two characters in a pretty standard post-apocalyptic landscape.
Ash, loneliness, sickness and some pretty desperate survivors are all that is left of the world we know, though there is little explanation of why it has happened, which seems to add to the tension and give the book a nice semi-SciFi fable feel (say that 10 times!).
This kind of thing is pretty normal for the end of the world novel, but what makes The Road really (dare I say) pretty is the way the characters survive and talk and carry on when there really are no promises that things will get better.
Taking on the big things like memory, names, god and a few other juicy bits from the bag of stuff we generally like to say are permanent, the book breaks down each one with the destructive and beautiful use of deceptively simple language that seems to be mostly narrated from the position of an utterly disillusioned and disenfranchised child.
What McCarthy does best is mess about with our blinding sense of hope for the man and the child as they keep each other alive on the road with conversation and questions that obliterate any idea of things like identity and names being any more sacred than ashy water.
From the beginning, we are pretty well informed that things are going to be mostly grim for a couple hundred pages but what makes the book so utterly stunning is that little feeling of hope we seem to immediately cling to that everything will eventually turn up roses.
And even though the book is predominantly grim that silly feeling of optimism made me think, if only for the fact that the man and the child are still talking and walking and carrying on, that the narrative was not undeniably and completely depressing.
What made me fall completely head of heels into the book was the idea that, even in a world where the very basics of humanity are almost gone, there is still this beautifully optimistic feeling of carrying the fire and that—even in their degenerating state—the boy and the man are still clinging dearly to the best parts of all of us.
While it is definitely not a happy story where all is well in the end, The Road is truly a masterpiece of modern fiction, with McCarthy firmly planting himself as nothing short of the pin-up for post-apocalyptic fiction.
And without any further nonsense about words, read The Road. It’s spectacular.
From the friend who started stockpiling end of the world currency chocolate, but is pretty sure he’ll be poor and unprepared when the apocalypse gets here,