Fiction – hardcover; Picador; 256 pages; 2006.
The Road is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Two travellers, a man and his young son — both unnamed — follow the road south in search of a warmer climate.
Their journey is a treacherous one. They trudge through snow, pushing a shopping cart loaded with their worldly goods, and are constantly on the look out for the predatory “bad guys” out to steal their belongings. They have a gun for protection, but the bullets have long run out.
In this rather chilly, desolate and oppressive landscape, the man and his son devote most of their time to walking and looking for food. They spend their evenings huddled under a plastic tarp, frightened that the cold will kill them.
This extraordinary, wholly believable tale is part horror, part fantasy. While nothing much seems to happen, the reader is compelled to keep turning the pages if only to find out whether the man and son willever reach their destination.
The fear resonates off the page, but so, too, does humanity. This seems ironic given the inhumane conditions in which the characters find themselves. But it is small acts of kindness by the son, who is too young to have his compassion knocked out of him, that makes the story especially moving without being sentimental.
This lack of sentimentality is aided by prose — and dialogue — that is crisp, clear and almost as anorexic as the characters it portrays. The maxim make every word count is very much apparent here.
Despite the bleak and sometimes disturbing nature of The Road, the reader reaches the final page torn between an overwhelming sense of sadness and a realisation that life means nothing without love.