Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Rating: Neutral

I wish I knew how to review this book. Frankly, I wish I had a consistent point of view about it.

On one hand, it was immensely irritating. There's no character development and no plot - to the extent that there is almost no action of any kind except walking. The characters have no names, and in fact there are no names anywhere in the book. Even worse, nothing here is ever explained. It's a post apocalyptic novel, but what caused the devastation is entirely unknown to the reader. From the perspective of the story, characters and setting, The Road is a complete bust.

And there are other things that irritated me. For some odd reason contractions that should end in "n't" (e.g. didn't) lack the apostrophe (e.g. didnt). Other uses of the apostrophe were normal. And dialog isn't quoted anywhere. Ever. Why does McCarthy change the rules of English usage in this book?

Beyond that there is the writing. It's simple and repetitive. Simple and repetitive. Really. Simple and repetitive. And irritating.

So there you have it. A lot of things about this book bugged me in various ways. I'd be tempted to give it a totally negative review and end it there, but...

On the other hand, there was something that kept me reading despite all of the above. At times it seemed The Road was more like poetry than prose, and that may have brought me back at points. (It was very easy to put this book down - even mid-sentence. But oddly I did come back to it.) The story is broken into bite sized bits - sometimes just a single sentence or two, sometimes a few paragraphs long. They're kind of like potato chips - reading just one is hard to do for some reason, even if you know it's not good for you.

In addition, that simple, repetitive style is related to the subject matter - walking a very long way in an inhospitable world. That may also have played on my subconscious and kept me interested when I should have gone off and done other things.

But just like someone who eats an entire bag of potato chips, I came away feeling unfulfilled. I learned nothing here - not about the characters or the people they meet, not about the world they inhabit, and not about anything else for that matter. I've read glowing reviews claiming the book shows off the wonderful bond of father and son. Nope. Some say the book discusses the human condition. I don't think so. As an exercise in story telling The Road is a failure. Maybe, as an exercise in prose poetry, it is a bit more interesting, but even then it's about 280 pages too long.

I'm not sure what McCarthy was trying to accomplish when he wrote this, and that is the clearest indication of the problem. I'm in the minority here, I know. Many others loved this book. I simply can't bring myself to that point. I've read a lot of post apocalyptic fiction over the years and this simply isn't that good.