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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road tells the story of a man and his son as they make their way along a road towards the coast through a ravaged landscape. Along the way, they occasionally encounter other people in various states of decrepitude and/or savagery. A worldwide catastrophe has destroyed everything to such an extent that there is little or no evidence that there can ever be any kind of recovery and the few people and resources left are declining rapidly. Nothing much actually happens and the story is unrelentingly grim, but there are two aspects to this novel that make it one of the most worthwhile experiences of my reading life.

The first is the relationship between the man and the boy (as they are referred to throughout the book). The man’s fear for the safety of his son is palpable and justified. His love for the boy and the boy’s loyalty to and love for his father are beautifully realised and severely tested as the story progresses.

The second aspect is the devastated landscape itself, which is described in great detail and assumes a strange beauty that is truly horrifying. The sheer scale and finality of the catastrophe (which is never explained, and rightly so) is overwhelming to the reader.

The final paragraph is so achingly beautiful, it actually brought a tear to my eye. I’m a fan of McCarthy’s work generally and love his spare and pared back prose. This is what some readers don’t like about his work. However, for all his simplicity of language, there is a lyricism to the imagery of this novel that makes it his very best work and one you should most definitely read.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Picador, pb, 256pp, €9.59)

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