Sunday, April 29, 2007

Post-apocalypse Now

THE ROAD Cormac McCarthy

(A longer version of this appeared in yesterday's Sunday Times of India.)

Winter in America. The land has been devastated and people are on the move, alone or in packs. Food is scarce; death, ubiquitous; cannibalism, common. Through this terrain trudge a man and his young son, pushing a ramshackle cart containing food and other essentials, heading towards the sea.

This is the setting of Cormac McCarthy’s chilling new novel, which intermittently brings to mind Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ – if that can be seen as a response to the horrors of World War I, this is equally a response to our age’s globalisation of terror.

As before, McCarthy’s prose is Faulknerian in quirkiness, yet Hemingwayesque in rhythm. His stomach-churning scenes are undercut by moments of tenderness between father and his son -- he seems to imply that the best place to look for redemption is in the bonds between people; but when it comes to his characters, there is only a hopeless vigilance.

McCarthy’s landscapes are always evocative: here, the land is “barren, silent, godless”, and “ash” is a funereal incantation, on almost every page. Yes, one can quibble about the puzzling indications that the son will become the conscience-keeper of a new generation, and the coincidence in the conclusion. Yet, in its entirety, The Road is a powerful testament with the hypnotic power of a Biblical passage.

Worth your while? Yes, but may require some hours of mindless TV soap viewing to get over its impact.

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