The Road – Cormac McCarthy

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 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2007

The Road is a book I’ve been wanting to read for ages. I knew that I’d love it, but I also knew that it would break my heart and so needed to wait for the right moment to pick it up.

The image of a father and son walking along a barren road in post-apocalyptic America was already strong in my mind, thanks to seeing trailers for the film and re-prints of the book with the movie-tie-in cover, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for power of the imagery in this book. It is truly haunting.

I was surprised by the simplicity of the prose. I had expected it to be more complex and descriptive, but I think leaving everything up to your own imagination makes it more powerful.

He was beginning to think that death was finally upon them and that they should find some place to hide where they would not be found. There were times when he sat watching the boy sleep that he would begin to sob uncontrollably but it wasn’t about death. He wasn’t sure what it was about but he thought it was about beauty or about goodness. Things that he’d no longer any way to think about at all.

The love between the father and his son was so touching – it is one of the strongest relationships I have ever read and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

This book makes you question exactly what you need to make life worth living.

Its strength is its simplicity. It is a classic that everyone should read.

I’m reluctant to watch the film as I don’t want to ruin my memories of the book.

Do you think it is worth watching? Is it similar in style or will it change the pictures in my head?


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63 Comments

  1. Annabel says:

    I’m so glad this book made such an impression on you – it is a new classic and I agree with everything you said. I too, have not seen the film; doubtless when it makes its way onto TV I’ll watch it, but I don’t think it could live up to the book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I don’t see how the film could be anywhere near as good as the book and I worry that it will ruin it. I’m so pleased I’ve finally read this wonderful book.

  2. Bibliophile By the Sea says:

    So happy you loved this book; I do too. Even though it was so dark and bleak, it moved me. I do hope to see the movie sometime.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bibliophile By the Sea, I hope that you get to watch the movie soon and can let me know what you make of it :-)

  3. Jeane says:

    I didn’t really care for this book; it was just too depressing for me and the ending felt too ambiguous. But I felt exactly the same way about the movie- it captured the mood of the book extremely well. So if you liked the book, I think there’s a good chance you’ll like the movie too!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, I love ambiguous endings! I like not knowing and imagining what may or may not happen to the characters. Saying that, I don’t think the ending of The Road was very ambiguous. I think I have a very good idea of what happens once the book is over.

      1. Jeane says:

        I guess I just felt like I wanted more. I didn’t feel sure about the family the boy met. How did he know he could trust them? what happened after? where did they take him? how did he adjust? it just felt too abrupt. I felt the same about the beginning of the book- not enough backstory for me. I wanted to know more about why all this devastation had come about, more about the mom, etc. I guess I just felt like the two ends of the book didn’t give me enough story, I didn’t want to fill it in for myself!

        1. Ifi says:

          Jeane,
          I agree. I don’t like filling in the blanks of a story either. If I was good at it I’d write a book!! Interesting though, I didn’t feel the need to know why all this devastation occurred. It had, and I was just interested in the aftermath.

          And as for what happens next…and I said it first here on Farmlane Books…hey.. THE sequel

          1. Jackie says:

            Ifi/Jeane, I would love to read the sequel if there was ever to be one, but I can’t imagine it being anywhere near as good.

            I don’t think it matters what caused the devastation. It could have happened for any number of reasons and that it a good thing. We should be worrying about ALL possible reasons for it occurring, not just one.

            What happens at the beginning of the disaster would be interesting, but it would be another book entirely. I think the emotional impact of the book would have been reduced a lot if we had had all those extra details. We’d end up feeling sorry for the mum etc instead of focusing on the wonderful father/son relationship.

  4. Alex says:

    The Road was on my TBR for ages and every time someone saw it, they remarked on how sad and heart-breaking it was. So I decided to give it to a friend instead.

    I’m a literary coward… :P

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, If you aren’t a fan of sad books then I think it might be best for you to avoid this one :-)

  5. Steph says:

    I absolutely will never watch the film version of this book, mostly because I think I wouldn’t be able to deal with seeing any of these scenes brought to life (so to speak). This was such a harrowing book for me and one I’d definitely like to read again at some point… but first I have to build up the courage to do so! ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I think you are right. I can’t imagine watching some of the scenes. What is the point of getting a film to watch when you spend 3/4 of the time behind the sofa, afraid to watch!

  6. Amy says:

    This book has been highly recommended to me so I should give it a read at some point. Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, It is a fantastic book, but make sure you don’t read it if you are in any way depressed that week ;-)

  7. Erin says:

    Whew…this one has always sounded so tough to me. I can’t decide if I want to read it or not!

    1. Jackie says:

      Erin, I do enjoy tough books so bear that in mind before deciding to try it :-)

      1. Erin says:

        I do too, to a point, but this one sounds like it might be past my point! I guess the only way to find out is to give it a try. I’ll wait until I’m feeling excessively upbeat, if I do decide to give it a shot :-)

  8. Glad you liked this book! It seems we may be literary soulmates! Until the next book comes along… Well, so far, so good.

    I haven’t seen the movie and I’m not so sure I want to. I have a picture in my mind after reading the book and I’m not sure I want it to be disturbed by a movie, especially if the movie turns out to be less good than the book (I’m not sure what the consensus is about that).

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I think I’m with you on watching the movie. I have images in my head and don’t want them to be confused with the ones on the film – especially if they aren’t the same. I’m striking it off my rental list!

  9. Jessica says:

    eak I do have the film but I’ve been unwilling to relive the experience. I have kept my copy of the Road because I think it would benefit a re-reading as I was so tense the first time I read it, but again I have no idea when I would be willing to live through it again LOL

    My husband hated it though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, I can see myself re-reading it in the future. I’m sure there is a lot I missed as you are so worried about what will happen to the characters next that you miss those subtle things I’m sure are present in the text.

      I totally understand why some people hate this book – it isn’t for everyone :-)

  10. FleurFisher says:

    I haven’t seen the film and I haven’t read the book, but you have definitely inspired me to take a close look, even though it doesn’t lok like my knind of thing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jane, I look forward to seeing what you make of it. :-)

  11. Ifi says:

    No, people, I really would NOT watch the film. The power in the book lies in us creating our own imagery, don’t you think? Hollywood could only ruin that.

    I liked, but did not love, this book !! Not because of the subject matter… I love a book that provokes any emotion or reaction… but rather because it was just too LONG. Yes, I know it was a very short read, but about three quarters of the way through I had wanted it to come to an end. Don´t get me wrong, it was a page turner. I was very impressed with how one can find so many ways and words (pages upon pages) to describe such a desolate landscape and still keep the readers attention. Yes , it was beautiful in prose and simplicity; yes, it was heart-breaking but there came a point when it all wore thin. McCarthy would have done this book more justice had he written it as a novella.

    **SPOILER ALERT** And when it finally did come to an end, why oh WHY, (someone please tell me), did it need to finish on a happy note? Why did this kind family in the end need to find this boy and save him??? If we are going to write / read a bleak and grim book then let it be just that. That really annoyed me. Are we readers not able to cope with a disturbing end? Is this in order to not offend? Increase book sales? I didn´t get it.

    Too much hype. We all get excited when there is a good book on the market, but this got over sensationalized.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ifi, OK, OK! I’m not going to watch the film!! I’ll keep only my images from the book in my head :-)

      SPOILERS!!

      I almost agree with you about the length of the book. It never felt too long when I was reading it, but I can see that removing the scenes on the beach might have benefitted the book in the end.

      I disagree about the book having a happy ending. I thought it was poignant/sad. How can the death of the central character be a happy ending? The boy is alive, but his Dad has died. That is so sad. You have to question whether it would actually have been happier if they had all died. It was a terrible life before his Dad died, but living on in fear, without food etc isn’t exactly a good life. We don’t really know if they will be OK. I feel such love for that little boy and can’t imagine my own little boys enjoying that life with strangers. Does that help to explain it all? I love your passion!!! Would love you to come back and share your thoughts :-)

      1. I also don’t think the ending was happy. At least, that’s not how I remember it. There was maybe a little hope that things would end well, but really they were living one day at the time (maybe even one hour at the time) and things could change from one moment to the next.

      2. Ifi says:

        **Spoiler Alert**

        Mmm, yes, you are right Jackie. It might have been best that they had all died… THAT would ironically have been the happy ending. The poor boy’s misery continues!!. It never occurred to me… no, being left behind is not the better option. I fe(Gosh I love these discussions). And, holy cow, how about this thought that just crossed my mind! (as I brace myself) What if this family had ulterior motives…their next meal!!!!!!!!!!!

        Calm down everyone, it is just a novel(la). Did anyone finish this book with THAT as a closing thought??

        1. Jackie says:

          Ifi,

          SPOILERS!!!

          Exactly! I didn’t end the book thinking that they would eat him, but it is possible they could. That is the beauty of ambiguous endings ;-)

    2. mee says:

      Oh hey somebody who thought the same like I did. I found writing was repetitive and felt like it took me forever to finish such a slim book. It just bored me somewhat. I also thought the book ended on a fairly positive note, which is completely out of tone with the entire book. It drove me crazy. It’s hard enough to meet one “good” person, and now the boy meets an entire family, complete with 2 kids and a dog?! Geez where did that come from?

      But as someone who has watched the film, I do encourage you to watch it. I think you’d like it if you like the book. It stays true to the book and the setting is quite amazing. As I remember it there’s only one scene that you may not want to see, but that’s it.

      1. Jackie says:

        mee, LOL! It is amazing how different people can take the same story in such different ways. I still don’t see it as a happy ending – would you have prefered it to have ended with the boy sat on his own?

  12. Sandy says:

    Seeing those five stars makes my heart soar. What a book, huh? I have found Cormac McCarthy’s voice is totally unique to anything else out there. He is blunt, but has depth, with the potential to just knock you off your axis.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Cormac McCarthy’s books. He is a special author :-)

  13. Meridith says:

    I read this book when it first came out and it haunts me to this day. It was so well written that I hung in there despite the horrors of the things they encountered.

    1. Jackie says:

      Meridith, I can imagine being haunted by this book for the rest of my life. I love a powerful book :-)

  14. Violet says:

    I tried reading this book twice but couldn’t go beyond the first 50 pages. It was way too depressing for me I’m glad you liked it though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, I completely understand how this book could be too much for some people. It only gets worse so I think you did the right thing stopping after 50 pages.

  15. Lezlie says:

    This is one of my all time favorites, even though it wrecks me. I have not watched the film either for much the same reason.
    Happy Holidays!
    Lezlie

    1. Jackie says:

      Lezlie, I am amazed at the number of people avoiding the film :-) It is good to know we all feel the same way about it.

  16. Courtney says:

    In an interview between Cormac McCarthy and Oprah, he said the book is nothing more than a love story between a father and son, and he wrote it as a love story – I found that very interesting. I really enjoyed the novel and recently saw the movie…for me the movie was really well done but extremely hard to watch – the visuals the movie brought home are particularly tough. I’m glad I watched it, though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Courtney, I think McCarthy has done a fantastic job creating a father/son love story – it is really nice to know that was his aim.

      Thank you for letting me know that some scenes in the movie were hard to watch. I’ve decided to avoid it for the time being. I don’t want to get nightmares from it.

  17. She says:

    I really liked this book as well and really wanted to see the movie, but it didn’t have a wide release over here. Maybe it’s a sign I shouldn’t see it…

    (I do love the choice of Viggo Mortensen for the father though)

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I’ve decided not to watch it for now. Maybe in a few years time I’ll change my mind….

  18. Jenny says:

    I don’t know if the film is worth watching — book and film are both way too grim for my brain — but if anyone could make it worth watching, it would be Viggo Mortensen.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I love the Viggo Mortensen fandom on this post! I can’t say he is an actor I’ve heard of – will have to investigate ;-)

  19. Beth F says:

    You’d probably like the film — very well done in my opinion.

    Now you need to read more McCarthy — one of my favorite authors.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I will ensure I read all the McCarthy I can! I already own some and hope to dive in soon :-)

  20. Wendy says:

    Glad you loved this one, Jackie – I also gave it 5 stars back when I read it (and it still has stuck with me all these months and months later). I have no desire to see the movie for some reason…the book was so brilliant that I don’t think the movie could possibly live up to it. But, then, I don’t go to see a ton of movies anyway!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Wendy, I don’t watch that many movies either, but I normally like to watch the adaptation once I’ve read the book. This is one of the few exceptions – I think I’ll be avoiding it for a while, if not forever.

  21. Kathleen says:

    I’ve not had a chance to read the book yet and I won’t watch the film before I do. I heard an interview with Cormac McCarthy where he described watching his little boy and thinking about a story like this. The book in that sense was so personal to him and that is probably why it is so deeply moving. It comes from such an authentic place and he had his own little boy in mind when he wrote it. I’ve got this book on my shelf and need to read it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, Thank you for explaining a bit about the background for this book – it makes it all the more moving. I think I need to seek out some McCarthy interviews on the internet as I think I’ll enjoy them. I hope you decide to read this book sometime soon as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  22. I read this book back in 2008, and was absolutely floored. It instantly became one of my favourite books, despite the fact that I found the first couple of pages slightly awkward to read.

    Have you read anything else by Cormac McCarthy? I’ve not read anything by him in about two years, and I reckon All The Pretty Horses might be the next book by him I’ll read.

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, It is good to see our reading tastes matching again :-)

      I haven’t read any other McCarthy, but will be ensuring I read all his books now. I think I’ll read No Country for Old Men next, simply because it has been on my shelf for the longest period of time. I hope you enjoy Pretty Horses – I’ll be keeping an eye out for your review.

  23. Amanda says:

    This is another one of those books that everyone loves but I just didn’t get. I guess the random for-no-reason section breaks just bugged me, it felt like it was trying to be literary and clever in style to make up for a deficiency of plot and character. Ah well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, Oh no! It always feel strange to be one of the only people who didn’t enjoy a massively loved novel. It is normally me that experiences that feeling ;-)

  24. I loved this too (well, as much as you can “love” this book), but not everyone agreed with me. I would say the movie is still worth a watch – it’s certainly scarier in parts, but probably less affecting at the end. But it didn’t ruin it or overly sensationalise it or anything.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lija, It is good to know that the movie doesn’t sensationalise anything, but I still think I’ll avoid it for the time being. I like to keep those images I created untainted by watching it.

  25. Mike Thomas says:

    If you thought The Road was dark you should try McCarthy’s earlier work, in particular Outer Dark or Child of God. The prose is similar in style but they are grimly funny, and far more macabre than his Pulitzer winner.

    As for the film version – I loved director John Hillcoat’s ‘The Proposition’ and tonally he has done a respectable job of bringing McCarthy’s novel to the big screen but it’s nowhere near as moving, nor for that matter does it contain many of the book’s more stomach-churning moments (e.g. the baby on the spit).

    Thanks for the great review of Pocket Notebook, by the way. Love the site.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mike Thomas, Thank you for suggesting McCarthy’s earlier work – I’m sure I’ll read his entire back catalogue at some point, but it is nice to know the best places to start (or save for a rainy day!)

      And thank you for writing such a wonderful book – I’ve recommended it to several people already :-)

  26. stacybuckeye says:

    I listened to half of this on a car trip with my husband and never felt the urge to finish it. I had a real problem with the son, but it may have been the narrator’s 5 year old voice that ruined it for me. We did watch the movie and it was, eh.

    1. Jackie says:

      stacybuckeye, I can’t imagine this book being very good to listen to – especially with a child narrator. I recommend giving the print version a try – you’ll know with in a few pages whether it is any more appealing.

  27. Chelle says:

    I started this book on audio and quickly abandoned it for the print. The narrator was terrible for the book. It was really awful.

    But I did love the book. I mean I really loved it. For me, the book was not about the disaster or what caused it. This was not a political book. It’s a book about a relationship, about love and goodness and evil all swarming within a human and what makes one choose goodness and what makes it worthwhile.

    I saw the movie and thought it was pretty good considering how fabulous the book is. It’s not a must see but certainly did not spoil the book for me – nothing could do that anyways.

    1. Jackie says:

      Chelle, Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time!

      It is good to know that my suspicions about the audio book were right – I thought it would work much better in print.

      I love your description of the relationship and the good and evil of humanity – so true :-)

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