Monday, January 22, 2007

Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'

The curent London Review of Books sees Philip Connors review Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The review places the novel in the context of McCarthy's early books, and specializes in pointing out the religious symbolism in this new one.
The symbolism becomes obvious once it's pointed out. The tale is of a father and boy on a journey through an apocalyptic landscape, the sun smeared from sight, ash dropping like snow on the road. They head for the west coast, for some unknown reason, avoiding cannibals along the way. The book is old-fashioned in drawing on fears of military rather than environmental devastation , but in a country waging hopeless war with recent memories of ash from the World Trade Cetnre choking its biggest city , it is understandable that the imagination should seek this route. The fact that the apocalypse is never explained fits with current notions of terror, the threat of a devastating unknown.
Connors points out the way the boy is a Christlike figure, and how McCarthy includes his regulara 'gnomic prophet' figure. I'd missed those referebces. What did strike me about the book, and surprised me given McCarthy's reputation for grimness, was the its sentimentality. The little kid was never real, might occasionally sulk but never flash out, it was all about the father and his sacrifice and their love. I might have bought in to the religious symbolism once, but no more. This strand of the book now just reads like sentiment. In his focus on the cosiness of the father / son stuff McCarthy has managed, bizarrly, to present a soft-focus Hallmark Apocalypse.

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