Thursday, October 2, 2008

A harrowing read

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I've long been a fan of apocalyptic fiction, but The Road is among the best in the genre that I've seen in a long time. It tells the story of a father and son wandering through a landscape that has been devastated by some vast catastrophe. It's not entirely clear what the catastrophe was, but whatever it was was huge, as virtually every animal and plant seems to have died out, leaving a diminishing number of people to wander through forests of dead trees, and scrounge for any remaining canned goods they can find, some becoming bandits and cannibals. Whereas many apocalyptic novels (The Day of the Triffids, The Stand, Earth Abides, etc) read like what Ixion calls "boy's own adventure" stories in which one could easily start to envy the protagonists, nothing in The Road makes the situation seem bearable; it's not a "cozy catastrophe". It's a thoroughly devastating novel (I've heard that description applied to Philip Wylie's Triumph, but that reads more as a "cozy catastrophe" to me). There is an overwhelming sense of bleakness and futility, yet all the while the father and son carry on, struggling to survive and to retain their humanity. George Monbiot has called it "the most important environmental book I have ever read"; it drives home the message that we are utterly dependent on the biosphere. Apparently there's a movie in the works, which may be unfortunate as I'm not at all sure Hollywood will do a good job on this.

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