Eight Books that Inspire Me #7: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I'm looking at the books and authors that inspire me as both a writer and a reader. I've chosen eight of my favourite novels and they're presented in no particular order.

“You have my whole heart. You always did.”

The second post-apocalyptic story on my list, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, is one of my all-time favourite books. A science-fiction novel that's not actually a science-fiction novel, it tells the story of a father and son travelling across a dying landscape in an attempt to reach the coast.

An unspecified cataclysm has taken place some years before, ending civilisation as we know it, and effectively ending the world. Fires ravage the landscape and ash covers the ground. Crops no longer grow. There are no more animals. The only thing left to eat is each other...

The premise for The Road is pretty darn bleak. And yet, in spite of its marauding cannibals who roast babies on spits and store victims in cellars like meat in larders, in spite of the abject hopelessness of attempting to survive in a world that is already dead, there is such tenderness at the heart of McCarthy's storytelling, that you can't help but shed a tear by the time you've reached its end.

The Road is essentially a love letter from a father to a son, documenting his utter determination to protect him from a world where danger is ever present, where every step forward is an inevitable step towards death. It's that love that raises The Road above pure nihilism, that keeps father and son moving towards the coast, that keeps us turning the pages until its beautiful, heartbreaking end.

Author Cormac McCarthy

Author Cormac McCarthy

I personally love McCarthy's style, although it's definitely an acquired taste. The characters are all nameless. Punctuation is minimal to say the least. Narrative structure is all but abandoned. It takes a while to figure out who is saying what, or if indeed a character is saying anything at all. All the anonymity takes a while to slip into, but then it seems so perfectly apt for a world in which everything is lost. Everything but a father's love for his son.

The Road is not an easy book to read, far from it. But it's a book that, in spite of its pervasive doom and gloom, celebrates hope and humanity in the face of adversity.

Have you read The Road? Or have you seen the film? How do you think they compare? Leave your answer in the comments below.