Saturday, 18 May 2019

Top 100 Review #3 - Book 63 - The Road

(From 24 December 2017)

It surprises me that I enjoyed this book, because in the past I have had an aversion to books and movies that don't have a traditional plot structure or happy ending. I'll unpack that in a moment, I just want to reiterate that this review is not based in research or anything other than my personal opinions and thoughts. I'd imagine there's a lot of academia out there about this book but that is not my aim here.

Coming into this, I had almost no knowledge of the book or story. I knew that there was a movie with Viggo Mortensen, but I haven't seen it (I am keen now though to see how they interpreted the book and what scenes and elements they chose to translate into a film version). As I started reading, it did remind me of some other books and stories (or probably those other ones were influenced by The Road), but other than that, I feel that I was able to approach this one with a rather clean slate.

The language of the book is one of its strongest points. The introduction described it as "at once brutal and beautiful", which is such an apt description. It is strange to think that McCarthy could summon such poetry from a wasteland setting, but perhaps it is that contrast that makes it work so well.

One thing that bothered me more than it probably should have was the fact that the characters weren't named. It was annoying to read 'the boy' over and again. Not sure why the author did this (yep I haven't researched anything yet). For universality? Very cute. For me, not giving someone a name is somewhat demeaning, and personally I felt less connected to the characters because they were nameless.

Despite being the protagonists, the main characters are never named. Neither are any of the other characters in the book or movie version.

I, of course, felt sorry for The Boy, but I'm not sure that I bought him as a believable character. This is my main criticism of the book. If I recall correctly, the unnamed apocalyptic event happened when he was still in the womb. Therefore we're talking about a kid that's grown up on the other side of civilisation. This post-apocalyptic world is all he's known. It's demonstrated by the kinds of questions he asks his father, by the lack of knowledge he has of the world, such as what a 'state' is. With this in mind, I just didn't believe that he would be so vulnerable, so frightened, weak and sad all the time. For him, the world is what it is. Why would he be sad comparing life to a world he never knew? Why would he be constantly frightened when he'd grown up with danger all around him? Kids can be pretty resilient. Take for example Clementine and AJ from the Walking Dead universe. They are some tough cookies, and AJ, who was born after the zombocalypse, in many ways simply accepts the way the world is. I think this potrayal of AJ in contrast to 'The Boy' is much more realistic.

Because of the world he lives in, AJ from The Walking Dead (TellTale) is mature beyond his years and doesn't constantly pine for the world that existed before.

The ending was sad and not very conclusive, but I had kind of anticipated that. The writer in me was thinking about how the book would finish and the most likely scenarios were death or coming across a community. Surprisingly though, I didn't feel like throwing the book at the wall once I had finished it in frustration over the unhappy ending, and I think this goes to the general sombre mood of the book as a whole. Life is hard and full of death. It makes the father's death in the end more palatable as it makes sense in the context of the world. Death is a frequent part of life, it's all around the characters, they are constantly being reminded of it. So while it is sad, I think having the unhappy ending (but with a dash of hope) was appropriate.

EDIT: I have, since originally writing this review back in 2017, seen the Viggo Mortensen movie and was surprised at how closely it followed the book. Given the themes and general story of the book it could have been translated in quite different ways, but I suppose the director/producer decided to stay close to the book in narrative and atmosphere. I really enjoyed both the movie and the book.

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