by Cormac McCarthy
Publisher; Picador/Great Britain/2006
Plot; A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape, save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves, the clothes they wear, a cart of scavanged food and each other.
My Thoughts; This book is proof to me why book clubs are a beautiful thing.
Years ago I saw this book at my local second hand book store. I had heard it mentioned in various circles, but after reading the blurb on the back, I put it straight back on the shelf. I dismissed it just as easily a few years later when I saw the trailer for the film. I am not a fan of post-apocolyptic literature. Or so I thought.
Thank you ladies of The Blue Mountains Book Club. What a wonderful, although depressingly sad, gift. You forced me to read this book and it paid off.
Who would have thought that such a dismal, grey story could be beautiful.
As I skeptically opened the first page and read the first few sentences I instantly warmed to this doomed father and his hopeful son. "Warm" may not be a word you would easily associate with Cormac McCarthy, but this is just how I felt as I read through each ashy step taken.
I think, as a parent, that what made this book such an emotional read for me was the question posed; could you kill your child? If you knew you were on the brink of painful starvation, but that hope may lay around the next bend (or not), could you mercy kill your child?
The father, referred to as "The Man" stays true and completely honest. He tells his son how it is and what will happen, no matter how bad the news. Yet his son, referred to as "The Boy", is so hopeful and so innocent. I think that is the most beautiful thing about this book; the son's hope. All he has known is devastation and morbid reality and he manages to still be so innocent and wants nothing more than to help others. Is this how all children would be in a similar world, or is this unique for this child.
There is a scene in which the father finds a can of Coke and he passes it to the boy. Naturally, through love and an understanding of how precious food and drink can be, the son passes the can to his father to take a sip and the father says "no", knowing the son has never and will never again have Coke. This scene brought a tear to my eye. You may say I am nuts, it is a can of soda, but just the thought that something as basic and common as a can of Coke can be such a treasure is sad.
Could this be our future? A future where money and diamonds are waded through to find the real treasure; wood panels ripped from walls for fire and cans of prunes, years past their expiry.
What McCarthy has done particularly well is to hide the cause of the devastation. We know it is a post-apocolyptic world. We know the plants have all died. We know that all the animals have died. We know that rivers have run poisonous. But what is the cause? I think this is effective. There are so many theories out there as to why the world will come to an end; global warming, the ozone layer hole, produce running out from over population, the list goes on. This book, this world, could really be the outcome of any of these causes.
Ultimately, I think what makes this book so popular, aside from the brilliant writing, is that people love to think, "what would I do?" What person doesn't watch or read stories of survival and wonder what they would do the same and do different. What would you do if the world was coming to and end and you had a child to protect?