Reading level: Adult/Young Adult
Size: 287 pages
Publisher: Vintage Books
Release Date: March 28, 2007
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Audiobook from Audible.com
Rating: 3/5 stars
I had heard a ton about this book so when I saw it for sale on Audible.com for $4.95 I decided to download it and give it a listen. It is an okay book. The contrast between poignant landscape descriptions and the sparse dialogue is interesting. The ambiguity of the story adds to the mystery of it all. I didn’t think there was much here that I hadn’t read before though. Much of the story gets repetitive…especially where dialogue is concerned.
A boy and his father travel the Road South to escape the cold brought on my some horrible post-apocalyptic disaster. They struggle to survive and occasionally stumble upon the “bad people” who are basically cannibalistic cults.
The audiobook itself was very well done. The narrator did an excellent job distinguishing between voices of the characters and his inflection matched the mood of the story perfectly. I think I enjoyed this more as an audiobook than I would have reading it since McCarthy doesn’t do a good job distinguishing between who’s talking in the writing but the narrator did an excellent job with that.
There is a lot of ambiguity in this book. Some horrible disaster happened; it involved lots of fire and has ruined the air quality, it destroyed civilization as it was known reducing humanity to lone survivors and cannibalistic cults. You can only assume that the disaster was volcanic in nature because of the ever present ash, the occasional earthquakes, and the continuing growing coldness. I suppose it could have also been nuclear in nature or something like that. This is never defined well. I guess the point is the world has ended and all humans can do is survive.
The two main characters are a man and his son. Again lots of ambiguity here. We never learn either of their names or the boy’s age. I was very curious about the age of the boy, he both seemed very young and very aged at different points in the book. McCarthy is careful not to give away the boy’s age, not sure what purpose this had, maybe to make him more relatable across a wider age group.
Basically the whole story is the man and boy wandering South trying to find food and stay warm. It gets pretty repetitive. I stopped counting the number of time the boy said “I’m really scared” because pretty much that is the only emotion we get from the boy for the majority of the book. I also stopped counting the number of times the man said “It’s really cold”. I understand that fear, hunger, and cold were major driving forces in this book I just wish that more variations of language had been used to describe these themes.
That being said the language is stark and there is a lot of repetition; despite that there are moments of wonderful description where McCarthy paints an absolutely wonderful picture with the phrases he uses. These moments are all the more distinct because of the starkness surrounding them.
The relationship between the boy and the man is worth discussing briefly as well. They obviously love each other, but the man is a man of little imagination and few words. He loses his temper fairly easily and expects the boy to act more grown up at times. It is hard to judge how out of line the man’s expectations are since we never learn the age of the boy. The boy acted much more mature than I would have expected any child to act in this situation; he has an innocence about him and a stoicness that is impressive, still he is more idealistic than the man. It was an interesting contrast in characters.
I would recommend this book for young adult and older because of some of the graphic violence. There is a lot of cannabalism in this book. One of the worst scenes involves a newborn baby being fried on a spit over a flame. There are also humans that are captured and held as food sources. The boy and the man skirt these evil communes, but manage to mostly stay clear of them.
Overall this was an okay read. It is kind of repetitive and there is a lot of ambiguity in the story that I didn’t enjoy. It is a depressing read but makes an interesting statement about human nature in the face of apocalypse. I really don’t think there is much here that you haven’t read in other post-apocalytpic novels; this book deals with many of the same issues (food, weather, air quality) that you’ve seen in other books about apocalypse via volcano. The relationship between the boy and his father is somewhat interesting but pretty stark and it makes both of these characters somewhat hard to relate to. For those interested in post-apocalyptic reads I would recommend The Angels are the Reapers, Ashfall, Ashes, Blood Red Road , and Life as We Knew It over this book.