It seems a little odd to say that I loved this book. It’s about a bleak, seemingly hopeless, journey by a man and his young son through the nuclear wasteland that Earth has become. The landscape is cold and grey and covered in ash. The conversation is repetitive. There doesn’t seem to be much to live for.
Cormac McCarthy is a remarkable writer. His view of humanity is not particularly optimistic, but he is able to create an entirely convincing world. Compelling as it is, I would not want to read it if it were not for the relationship between the man and his son. And it’s clear that the man would not care much about surviving if he were on his own. This seems entirely logical, really: post-apocalypse, the only thing that really matters is the survival of the species. Or perhaps it is the more evolved side of human nature that is being shown here, where the father is manifesting the purest form of love. He will protect his son as long as possible, although he will kill him rather than have him meet a worse fate at the hands of the monstrous itinerants they are avoiding.
Survival is the goal of all the remnants of humanity they meet on their journey. But survival at the cost of eating anything that moves is not an option for the man. So he teaches his son that they are the good guys and they have their rules to exist by. Their journey is attended by somewhat flexible moral principles, of an I-won’t-hurt-you-if-you-leave-us-alone nature. It’s a very convincing portrayal of how civilization crumbles but some fragments of it survive in an altered form. In fact, this is the essence of the book for me: everything — the landscape, the bone-chilling cold, the occasional, very occasional, find of something edible or otherwise useful, the fear and mistrust of others — rings true.
Two quibbles: one small and one large.
Small: someone made the decision to typeset won’t, can’t, isn’t, etc. without apostrophes. This was a minor irritant throughout the book. I might have been able to get used to it had it not been for the fact that the apostrophe is used in some words.
Large: the ending is unlikely — too hurried, unrealistic, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. It’s not the first time I have had the feeling that an author was pressured to finish up quickly or had his/her eye on the marketability of a movie version, but it was disappointing.
Nevertheless, the book was memorable and if you’re only going to read one Cormac McCarthy I’d recommend it be this one.