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Cormac McCarthy: The Road

It was probably inevitable that McCarthy would write a post-apocalyptic novel and this is it. It tells the story of a man and his young son travelling through post-apocalyptic USA. We never really learn what caused the apocalypse, except that cities burned, that the man and his wife suddenly found that there was no power and that large numbers of people were killed. There is, however, no evidence of radiation sickness. We learn also that the boy was born after the apocalypse and his father delivered him and that the wife went blind and killed herself afterwards.

The story is relatively simple. Father and son are travelling through a blighted landscape, trying to survive. There are three main impediments. Firstly, there are the people they call the bad guys. These are mainly, though not exclusively, men who try and corner the limited food supplies and, when they cannot find any of the dwindling stocks of food left over from before the apocalypse, they eat anyone they can find. For a long time they manage to avoid these men but eventually come across a group. They manage to hide but when they are accidentally approached by one of these men answering the call of nature, the father has to shoot him and they barely escape. Further encounters involved finding a group of prisoners kept in a house, presumably for food, sighting of a larger group transporting slaves, and other occasional encounters.

Getting food is a problem. They do occasionally manage to find stocks of food in hidden places but it is rare. Their one really successful find is a hidden fallout shelter, stocked with provisions and other supplies but they cannot afford to stay in case they are discovered. Frequently they go days with only minimal food or manage to find only a small amount of grain or an old fruit. Though they are moving south and towards the coast – the geography is never clear but it seems that they might have crossed into Mexico – the weather is cold (nuclear winter?) and they have to deal with snow which is not only cold but means that they leave tracks for the bad guys.

The relatively short book is mainly about their adventures, how they survive and the closeness between father and son in this difficult time. As might be expected with McCarthy, the picture is almost totally grim, redeemed by the love between the two and the not too depressing ending. It joins a long list of post-apocalyptic novels and while reminiscent of A Boy and His Dog, it is nevertheless a fascinating work in its own right.

Publishing history

First published 2006 by Knopf