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Old 11-01-2009, 05:55 AM   #1
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Discussion: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Two weeks ago, I promised to start a discussion about "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.

There will be spoilers you have been warned

I almost didn't finish it on time, as I got entangled in a much longer book I wanted to finish first - and I was a bit afraid that "The Road" would be slow going, but it wasn't at all. It was easy to read and a good length - not too short, not too long.

For someone who writes with a such a minimalistic use of punctuation, the text flowed very well. I only noticed one comma I noticed that he used apostrophe for contractions - except for 'not' contractions. I.e. dont, wouldnt, cant, etc. I wonder if there's some significance in this.

From the descriptions in the book, of the dead people and the landscape, I assume the catastrophe that's happened is a nuclear war. I remember reading books with this theme in the eighties, but I haven't come across this for years, and it was bit strange to be reading about it again. Perhaps it's just my own taste that has made me read something else.

I didn't feel much of an emotional attachment to the characters, but I rarely do. Their experience is quite horrendous, but it didn't grip me. I feel it difficult to have an opinion of whether this would be down to the book or if it's 'just me'. I'm not really sure what to think about this book. I have a detached, 'so-what', feeling about it.

The ending came off as a bit romantic to me - too perfect - a Hollywood ending. It was odd. I guess it's about hope, the survival of civilization even in very dark times - but I must admit I find "The Lord of the Rings" tells a story about hope in a much more effective way. A darker, negative ending would have had more of a punch.

What do you think about what relation the story has to the world of today - if any? Apart from being its own story, is this also a portrait of USA today?

Overall, I think I primarily enjoyed it for the prose. It was very easy just to go with the flow. It felt very inviting. The book I read previous to this, was Antonia Byatt's "The children's book", and her language is sort of dense and sensual, and a very different experience.

I've noticed "The Road" has been made into a film - with Viggo Mortensen as "the man". I haven't seen it, but since I've seen "Lord of the Rings" again very recently, I kept seeing Aragorn a "the man". It was a bit irritating I rarely imagine in great detail when I read, especially not faces, so this was odd.
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Old 11-01-2009, 06:34 AM   #2
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I would love to buy the ebook but geographic restrictions prohibit me from doing so. I have a family member who has the pbook which I am meaning to get off her and read before I see the movie.

I don't think you revealed to many spoilers at all with the book, you haven't ruined it for me Would you actually recommend the book to someone to read?
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Old 11-01-2009, 06:44 AM   #3
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I would love to buy the ebook but geographic restrictions prohibit me from doing so. I have a family member who has the pbook which I am meaning to get off her and read before I see the movie.

I don't think you revealed to many spoilers at all with the book, you haven't ruined it for me Would you actually recommend the book to someone to read?
Yes, I would recommend it. It's a good story, really well told. I'd give 4 out of 5. I just didn't get all that excited about it.

Even if the book is geo-restricted from Amazona and Fictionwise, I could still buy it here: http://www.cyberread.com/The-Road-E-...ormac/id28180/
It might work for you, too, even in Australia. It's cheaper waiting for a free paper version though
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Old 11-01-2009, 06:56 AM   #4
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Hey Thanks for starting this thread and the idea. I'll start off by saying I LOVED The Road.
I've recently read Margaret Atwoods Year of the Flood (and before that Oryx and Crake). In general I love post-apocalyptic novels and stories, there are just so many ways we could kill ourselves or die.

First I'll say I love the language and the style - very minimalistic in dialog and very poetic in description. The style (along with the plotting) literally pulled me through this book moreso than any of recent memory.

I like that much of the backstory was simply left to the readers imagination. My thoughts on that are that it was some kind of ecological disaster either man-made or resulting from something like a mega-volcano or asteroid strike that left the sky overcast/cloudy and resulted in dead plants and animals etc.

As far as the characters I got an almost biblical sense of them (and I'm definitely not religious so I don't think I'm reading into it). Almost as though the man was god, the boy, jesus and maybe the environment etc as the third - the holy ghost.

I enjoyed the continued "discovery" of good and evil by the boy -- "We're the good guys, right papa?"
Which clearly points out that good and evil have no absolutes but are relative and must be learned.

Carrying the fire seems a very strong symbol and important tool. The lighter that gets dropped/lost is a powerful symbol of losing faith perhaps or means of survival.

The whole shopping cart thing was a bit weird I though, but provided a focal point for much of the story. The things we must carry, the things we need to survive are more than just us, we are dependent on food, shelter, luck and the kindness of strangers, yet must always be on guard against the "bad" people.

Another point was the focus on a destination -- the sea, the ocean, yet when they got there, it was no better then anywhere else and it was almost as if the man knew this would be the case but was hiding it even from himself and using it as a reason for going on.

.....
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Old 11-01-2009, 06:57 AM   #5
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I would love to buy the ebook but geographic restrictions prohibit me from doing so. I have a family member who has the pbook which I am meaning to get off her and read before I see the movie.

I don't think you revealed to many spoilers at all with the book, you haven't ruined it for me Would you actually recommend the book to someone to read?
Absolutely. One of the best books I've read recently or otherwise.
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Old 11-01-2009, 07:14 AM   #6
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Thanks for starting this thread and thanks for your thoughts, Ea.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

I took a break from reading Infinite Jest to read The Road in time for this discussion, and the two writing styles couldn't be farther away from each other. Where Wallace can literally go for pages on end without introducing a period (and these are dense pages, mind you), McCarthy isn't afraid to have a sentence that's comprised of a single word. And because he's carefully chosen every word he's written, it works to great effect. The language is sparse, but exact. He paints a vivid picture, but doesn't get bogged down in detail. After reading the book, I'm not sure if I even want to see the movie, because I know my interpretation and visualization won't match the filmmakers'.

As for the book itself, I don't recall if he ever indicated what the exact cause of the devastation was. All we know is that it's years after some cataclysmic event. I think it's safe to say it's the result of nuclear war, but again, it's never explicitly stated.

Also, I think McCarthy wants us to sympathize with the characters and their journey/struggle, but doesn't want us to get too close to them. Notice that he never gives either of them a name? They are simply 'the man' and 'the child'. He tells us of their story, but from a distance.

And while I too initially thought the ending wrapped things up a bit too tidily, I'm not so sure of that after further thought. All we know is that the father wanted to get them to the coast. But then what was his plan? I'm not sure if he had one. The pair eventually made it to the coast, and then the father's role is done. All we know is that the child ends up with a group who says they will look after him. But will they risk their lives to save him at the first sign of trouble? We don't know. And that uncertainty is part of what makes the story great. We have some resolution to the events presented in the book, but nowhere near enough to truly feel comfortable with the outcome.

I originally checked out an ebook version of this from the library, but about halfway through, I knew it was something that I'd want to reread and share, so I ordered a hardcover copy from Amazon. Even if someone doesn't find the story appealing, the book should be read just to marvel at McCarthy's mastery of words. I also picked up a copy of the Border Trilogy, and I'm hoping the writing there is as good as this was.
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Old 11-01-2009, 07:53 AM   #7
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I took a break from reading Infinite Jest to read The Road in time for this discussion, and the two writing styles couldn't be farther away from each other. Where Wallace can literally go for pages on end without introducing a period (and these are dense pages, mind you), McCarthy isn't afraid to have a sentence that's comprised of a single word. And because he's carefully chosen every word he's written, it works to great effect. The language is sparse, but exact. He paints a vivid picture, but doesn't get bogged down in detail. ...
His style is great. Very elegant. There's just enough information - and he isn't talking down to the reader.

I gave my brother the book as a present some time ago, and now I'm interested in checking out the Danish translation - it can't have been an easy book to translate.

I've been taking advantage of the quick reference lookup on my new Kindle, and I noticed that most of the words I didn't recognise, were to do with landscape description. Only one I remember is 'piedmont plain'. I was wondering whether any kind of word use stands out to an native English speaker. Not that, for example, those landscape descriptors were 'special' words, but perhaps not so much part of an everyday vocabulary.

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As for the book itself, I don't recall if he ever indicated what the exact cause of the devastation was. All we know is that it's years after some cataclysmic event. I think it's safe to say it's the result of nuclear war, but again, it's never explicitly stated.
It's not stated explicitly, but the destruction that's described seemed to fit well with the results of a nuclear war.
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Old 11-01-2009, 08:04 AM   #8
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As far as nuclear war, I have to disagree. There was never any mention of anything (at least the I remember) that would indicate specifically nuclear war. Such as radiation or radiation zones or nuclear winter mention or missiles etc.
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Old 11-01-2009, 08:24 AM   #9
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Gotta agree with kenny here. We don't know for sure what caused the destruction -- just that something did several years earlier. It could be manmade, it could be natural (though admittedly there are only a few natural events that could cause destruction this widespread). It's simply not known, and I'm sure McCarthy left it that way intentionally.

On another note, for anyone who plays games (I can only squeeze in one or two a year these days), The Road was apparently required reading for the designers of Fallout 3. The descriptions of the landscapes, towns, and survivors are a near-perfect match to those in the game (minus the 50s Americana theme of the game).
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Old 11-01-2009, 08:31 AM   #10
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As far as nuclear war, I have to disagree. There was never any mention of anything (at least the I remember) that would indicate specifically nuclear war. Such as radiation or radiation zones or nuclear winter mention or missiles etc.
You're right. There would have been radiation zones and signs of radiation sickness etc.
I was thinking of the signs of massive burnings and the way many people seemed to have instantly and on the spot.
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Old 11-01-2009, 08:56 AM   #11
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Semi-related. I'd be interested in knowing if reading this book has inspired you to read other McCarthy books as it has me. I read No Country for Old Men (loved it) and have several more on my to-read list.
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Old 11-01-2009, 09:00 AM   #12
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Another thing I found interesting was the mother/wife who apparently killed herself rather than trying to survive. And also how this disaster seemed to start somewhat slowly with an awareness of what was coming and the need to leave the city in order to survive (or maybe that was just the man's conclusion).
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Old 11-01-2009, 09:24 AM   #13
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It's one book you don't simply finish. I read it recently for the firt time. It haunts me. NM
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Old 11-01-2009, 09:42 AM   #14
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It's one book you don't simply finish. I read it recently for the firt time. It haunts me. NM
What did you get out of it?
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Old 11-01-2009, 09:51 AM   #15
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Semi-related. I'd be interested in knowing if reading this book has inspired you to read other McCarthy books as it has me. I read No Country for Old Men (loved it) and have several more on my to-read list.
Not really. There was a lack of 'connection' with the book. I enjoyed the prose, but it didn't really excite me. On the other hand, I wouldn't exactly hate trying at least one more book.
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Another thing I found interesting was the mother/wife who apparently killed herself rather than trying to survive. And also how this disaster seemed to start somewhat slowly with an awareness of what was coming and the need to leave the city in order to survive (or maybe that was just the man's conclusion).
I read it as break-down of civilisation over time. The disaster had happened and then society started to fall apart and at some point it would not be safe for them anymore to saty - or there were no food. Even if they starve several times on the road, what saves them is that they keep moving and find food. A sort of return to a hunter-gatherer life. You can't stay in one place and grow food unless you can defend it.
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