So, just before Christmas I received my much awaited treasure of a parcel...a first edition of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. In all my moving disorderliness, I hadn't realised until it had been released that this was coming, but snaffled one up. In my hot little hands is a slender hardcover in a shiny black dustjacket with only the name of the book & author on it. A little dull maybe.
Timing wasn't great - we were off on holiday and I didn't want to risk travelling with it, so held on and started when I got back. In the end, I think this was a good call, as this is not a book that you really want to read while on a wacky great adventure. This is a book for curling up in the sanctuary of your home, warm, well fed & protected from the world.
I love McCarthy's work, as previously noted in this blog. However, I do appreciate that at times his prose can be a little ...wordy? Of all the people I have lent his books to, I can think of only one or two who have finished, and I don't think I have made any real converts. This is tough reading. You need to be interested in appreciating each sentence for itself, not necessarily for its contribution to any linear narrative or plot. Having said that, McCarthy is a master at place. Place is a central (or sometimes the central) character, and it is felt more than anything else.
The Road is a little different. For many of his early works, McCarthy gave us epic Western adventures. He has been moving away from this with No Country for Old Men, which has the feel of the Western but set clearly in the present, and now with The Road.
The Road is an apocalyptic novel like no other. This novel has all the ingredients of your good apocalypse story - enough to make you want to become a survivalist actually! - but at base the real story is internal. The narrative line centres around two characters,and McCarthy weaves you into their experience so effortlessly that you are captured in this time (thus the need for cosy safe surrounds) - this is not a pleasant place to inhabit. As with all McCarthy works, there is evil, and it is discussed in the same manner that everything else is. Without any drama, or heightened emotion, bad things happen, just as they tend to do in real life. You can't predict it. And you are squarely faced with it - there is no shying away.
The glory of this work, in my opinion, is again McCarthy's prose. While his earlier works were highly evocative, with broad, looping, wandering sentences, this feels pared back to its essence. It is as though, in needing to tell an 'essential' story - one that is about the very core of us all - he has managed to tell it in the most essential of words. It is beautiful, poetic, and remains evocative in all senses.
This is a must read. Simon has read it already - a miracle in itself! - which confirms to me that this is an accessible McCarthy novel. But be warned - it is unsettling, and (most uncharacteristically for me!) you will need tissues.
As a brief postscript, it appears that this is going to be made into a movie - and that No Country for Old Men is on the way to film production as well. It will be interesting to see - it feels like it could be a great movie, but a difficult one, to watch as well as make.
More reviews are here, from Village Voice, Random House (publisher notes) and a good selection at Powells.