Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Road

All the usual McCarthy bombast has been cauterised. His latest novel is an exercise in carefully-judged understatement.

A father and his young son, born after a firey apocalypse of uncertain origin, are pushing a cart with their few belongings southwards along a road set between frazzled trees and covered in swirling black ash. "Each the other's world entire."

The episodic narrative tracks their encounters with this forsaken landscape and its human remnants, the desperate and the starving and the resurgently evil groups of bloodcultists and cannibals. (Though no other wildlife whatsoever, oddly enough.)

None of the set piece images and incidents in this sequence becomes more important than just another stop on the journey. But the technique of revealing this ruined world through an array of glimpses makes what we do see that much more convincing and disturbing. The scenario is familiar from Science Fiction in the 70s and 80s, but McCarthy's treatment of it is unique. It's one of the most touching modern novels I have ever read.

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