Sunday, 21 September 2008

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy - Analysis

The Road - An Analysis


From the back cover: A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is grey. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food and each other. "The Road" is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, 'each the other's world entire', are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation. Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer and 2006 James Tate Black Memorial prizes


Faith, Hope & Charity

The world is dead, nothing grows, the very air is poisoned with dust and ash, yet the Man and Boy press on in faith. They hope that they will find food, warmth, the sea, the good guys, life. Contradictions abound: they find bounty in the cold and barren sea; the Boy finds faith and shelter after the man’s death; the Boy offers succour to those he meets but the Man refuses; their only sustenance is the charity of blind chance and treasure troves. Hope where all is hopeless; faith that the flame that they carry will find a destination; and charity at the end.



Nothing grows and the whole food web has collapsed. The Man and the Boy only survive through luck in finding food before anyone else. Ironically, they are reduced to primitive hunter-gatherers: the only hunting is other humans and the only gathering is tinned food. Neither are sustainable.


Much in hidden in The Road. The Man and Boy hide their night time fires from hostile eyes and search for food hidden where none have found it before. Their destination is hidden and only hoped for. The destruction of the world is hidden in the past and the Man’s lack of understanding and the Boy’s indifference to the world he was born too late to see. Some things in hiding are treasures, like the real coffee in the survivalist’s bunker. Some things, such as the cause of the apocalypse, are hidden because they are irrelevant to survival in the present.



Fire destroyed the world. Fire keeps them warm at night and cooks their food, but it must be hidden from others on the road who might steal their meagre rations and lives. The Man and Boy are carriers of the metaphorical fire, but for what? Is it goodness, civilisation, faith, the spirit of man, of God?

The Shopping Cart

Apart from their emergency supplies held in backpacks, they carry all their worldly goods in a supermarket trolley. Where they are reduced to savaging rusty tins, when money has no meaning, they use a symbol of rampant consumerism and commercial choice. It is no wonder that the wheels are falling off.


All is dust and ashes. The dust of civilisation lies heavy on the ground and on those still clinging to life. It chokes the waters and poisons the survivors.The Man and Boy cannot shake the dust from their feet but can only mask their nostrils.


Life has (apart from birth) no beginnings and (apart from death) no endings. It only have events in the middle. There are no chapters but there is punctuation. As they say, “Life goes on”. The Road is lifelike, which is one of its many ironies, as nearly everything is dead. There is no beginning, though we see fragmentary and unexplained flashbacks to the events that caused the world to die and thus put the Man and the Boy on this journey. There is an end for the man, though this has been signposted throughout. And there is an end of the journey for the boy, which possibly gives hope in this hopeless world. “The road goes ever on”, as does life in this dead world. But the road reaches the sea and finds that it is as dead as the land. And the survivors are reaching the end of the world too, as the supplies of tinned food are running out. Let’s face it, cannibalism is not a long term survival plan. The Road is rich in irony. The Man and Boy carry “the flame” in a world destroyed by fire. They find food and shelter in a hideout left by a survivalist who did not survive. They meet a prophet on the road who says that there is no God. The prose is beautiful poetry describing a world of grey ash. The Man is one of the good guys who kills the first person he talks to and almost certainly kills the last in his mission to save the Boy. The road goes on, as must life


The Road is beautifully written; it is often more poetry than prose. Sometimes this means that clarity is sacrificed for the language, or perhaps the meanings have to be thought about and teased out – your choice. Critics and reviewers have argued over whether it is science fiction, horror, parable or speculative fiction. They have dissented over whether the end of the world was nuclear, meteor or the second coming. They all agree that The Road is a magnificent piece of literature, worth of the Pulitzer Prize and more.

Further Reading

The Guardian - The Road To Hell
The New York Review of Books - After the Apocalypse
The New Your Times - The Road Through Hell, paved With Desperation
SF Gospel - Cormac McCarthy's The Road
Washington Post - Apocalypse Now
SFBK original posting


  1. best use it as reaction mass
  2. pot boiler suitable for the space port
  3. ok
  4. a good book
  5. genre defining classic that other books will orbit around
***** It won the Pulitzer!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Book Club archive

I have been asked a few times for a complete list of our books to date and here they are. One day they might all get a write-up.


Frank Herbert

Spice gives long life; without Spice, space travel is nigh impossible; Spice is the most valuable substance in the universe, but can only be found on one planet. Dune, a planet without water and without mercy, where empires rise and fall. And on this God-forsaken land a new messiah is rising. Winner of the 1966 Hugo and Nebula awards


Isaac Asimov

The time is a future century, in the days of the Julactic Empire – a society of a million worlds throughout the Milky Way. The Old Empire is crumbling into barbarism and Hari Seldon and his band of psychologists see before them only the despair of thousands of years of anarchy, unless they can create a new force – the Foundation – dedicated to art, science and technology – the nucleus of a new empire…

Read the book club analysis here

2001 a space odyssey;

Arthur C Clarke

On the ancient savannas of Africa, an alien black monolith sparks intelligence into a group of apes, leading to violence and the rise of humanity. Buried deep in the Luna regolith, a magnetic anomaly leads astronauts to discover a black monolith that reacts when exposed to sunlight. En-route to Jupiter to examine another monolith, artificial intelligence descends to madness and one crew member discovers just how far human evolution can go.

The Swarm;

Frank Schätzing

Something strange and terrible is happening deep in the oceans. Tides and currents are shifting, normally peaceful creatures are attacking, ships are sinking, fishermen drowning. The world ecology is in crisis… and this is just the beginning. Led by the claret-loving Norwegian Sigur Johanson and the Inuit whale expert Leon Anawak, a motley group of scientists find themselves in a race against time to prevent a global cataclysm – and to head of those who want to exploit it in their own pursuit of power.

Ender’s Game;

Orson Scott Card

Ender Wiggin is Battle School’s latest recruit. His teachers reckon he could become a great leader. And they need one. A vast alien force is heading for Earth, its mission: the annihilation of all human life. Ender could be our only hope. But first he has to survive the most brutal military training program in the galaxy… Winner of the Hugo (1986) and Nebula (1985) awards

Mortal Engines;

Philip Reeve

London is on the move again. The city has been lying low, skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. The town moves off after its quarry as events within the walls begin to take a sinister turn… Winner of the 2002 Nestle Smarties Book Prize Gold Award and Blue Peter Book of the Year 2003

American Gods;

Neil Gaiman

Days before his release from prison, Shadow’ wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break. Winner of the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards, and the 2004 Geffen Award

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy;

Douglas Adams

One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seams already more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just begun, and the galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Revelation Space;

Alastair Reynolds

Nine hundred thousand years ago, something wiped out the Amarantin. For the human colonists now settling the Amarantin homeworld Resurgam, it’s little more than academic interest, even after the discovery of a long-hidden, almost perfect Amarantin city and a colossal statue of a winged Amarantin. For brilliant but ruthless scientist Dan Sylveste, it’s more than merely intellectual curiosity and he will stop at nothing to get at the truth. Even if the truth costs him everything. But the Amarantin were wiped out for a reason. And that danger is closer and greater than even Sylveste imagines…


Stephen Baxter

Sisters matter more than daughters. Ignorance is strength. Listen to your sisters.
As the light of the Roman Empire gutters and fails one woman begins a remarkable quest to protect her family. It is a quest that will last 2000 years and threaten everything we know. In present-day England George Poole is looking for his long-lost sister. It is a search that will take him to Rome and into the heart of an ancient secret: a secret that holds a terrifying truth for all our futures.


Eric Brown

It takes an alien race to show us our humanity When a mysterious alien race known as the Kéthani make contact with the people of Earth they bring with them the dubious gift of eternal life. These enigmatic aliens will change the course of the human race forever but also touch people’s lives on a personal scale, not least in a small town in the English countryside. But do the Kéthani have a hidden agenda and will the human race choose the evolve or turn in on itself in the face of this momentous revelation?

Read the book club analysis here

The Road;

Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other. Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer and 2006 James Tate Black Memorial prizes

Read the book club analysis here

Troll Fell

From the Harper Collins web site
Peer Ulfsson stood miserably at his father's funeral pyre, watching the sparks whirl up like millions of shining spirits streaking away into the dark.
But someone else is also at the funeral. Peer's half-uncle, Baldur Grimsson. Peer watches helplessly as Uncle Baldur sells his father's property and pockets the money. Peer is then forced to move away from the world he knows in Hammerhaven, and live with his two half-uncles at their mill near Troll Fell.
Peer hopes his other uncle will be more welcoming and less ferocious than Baldur, but Baldur is an identical twin, and Grim Grimsson is just as mean-spirited and greedy as his brother. Peer lives a life of servitude, with only the company of his faithful dog, Loki, until he meets spirited Hilde, whose family farm on Troll Fell, and Nis, his uncles' house spirit. Between them, they must foil a plot by the Grimsson brothers to sell one boy and one girl to the trolls who live on Troll Fell. But the Grimssons want riches, and they will do anything to get them. And as everyone knows, trolls are rich… but they are also cunning.
You can find more about the author ketherine Langrish on her web site
Next meeting on October 20th at Anne's new house