The Road (Not) Taken

It wasn’t that long ago that I blew open the literary vault of my brain with Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Not for years had I picked up a book which from the outset (“See the child.”) had me holding on to the arms of my chair for fear that my head would explode with the sheer power of the language.  It stopped me in my tracks and forced me to rethink everything I knew about ‘the novel’.  It was like a nightmare weighing on my brain, after which my mind was left spent and parched, pulverised by McCarthy’s relentless historical phantasmagoria.

I didn’t think I’d pick up another one of his books for quite some time.  I thought I’d thumbed enough violence and horror.  I thought I had him all figured out.

But recently I found myself in a bookshop holding a copy The Road and I flipped it open and started to read:

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.  Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each than what had gone before.  Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.  His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath.  He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.

I devoured the next 307 pages in a sustained frenzy.  A total of three sittings.

I don’t think it is hard to see that The Road is one of the most significant novels to emerge since the turn of the millennium.  It poses some incredibly important questions, not the least of which is, what does it mean to be human in a world devoid of humanity.

I would highly recommend it to anyone concerned about the state of our world.  It gives fresh hope that there is meaning in words, power in language, and purpose in art.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Road (Not) Taken

  1. imagestoliveby

    I loved ‘The Road’ too: it really was one of the most harrowing reads I have ever undertaken, though.

    It’s being released as a film, which worries me a little: I feel sure it’s one of those books which is ‘unfilmable’.

    ‘Blood Meridian'” I found that hard, hard going. Too – what’s the word? – ‘baroque’? I found it over-written compared to The Road and to the other great McCarthy novel, No Country For Old Men, which I totally recommend!

    Nice blog!

  2. Thanks for the comment Images.

    I agree about the ‘harrowing’ part. It seems to generate in the reader a paradoxical desire to read on…but with eyes half-shut. It’s kind of like a good horror film in that regard; we keenly want to know what happens but are afraid of watching for fear of what we suspect will come to pass.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so fast though, or so desperately. It was kind of like I was afraid for the boy and so I had to finish it quickly to protect him…?

    And about the film, yep, I think you’re right. It’s not the sort of novel that will translate well. It will just become a spectacle of violence.

    Blood Meridian is baroque, no doubt, but I’ve got a penchant for novels of that ilk. Like Moby-Dick: a lot of people can’t stand it, but I eat it for breakfast.

    And I think there’s more than a tenuous link b/w the two. A number of commentators have drawn parallels between Judge Holden and the great White Whale… 🙂

  3. James E. Powell

    I read The Road last week, like you in three intense sittings. Then I read it again over the weekend. I found your post while looking for reviews.

    The questions who are we and what are we doing here are hanging right there in front of us, but we struggle to distract ourselves. We mostly succeed. The Road confronts the reader with these questions; it does not answer them. We tend to fear questions for which there may be no answer.

    That said, I have no explanation, no understanding of why I could not stop reading this book. If it weren’t for work, I’d have read it straight through.

    I expect the film to be, like most films of literature, a pale reflection.

    • Hi James,

      “We tend to fear questions for which there may be no answer.”

      I think that’s exactly right. And The Road refuses to shy away from those questions.

      Partly I think that’s what accounts for the book’s amazing gravitational power over the reader: we fear to look on what might come to pass but at the same time we desire to know the truth. My partner stayed up until 4am reading it because she couldn’t stop once she had started (on the train on the way home from work).

      I’ve read a lot of McCarthy’s stuff now and I think this may be his Old Man and the Sea.

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