‘Years later he’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light.’
The UK paperback edition comes festooned with plaudits, so it hardly needs one more, but The road by Cormac McCarthy is yet another outstanding novel by the Tex-Mex master. That the praise is unanimous is a sign of the stripped-down force of McCarthy’s writing – few if any can withstand its tender asperity. Sparser than the separate parts of the Border trilogy, no less merciless in its depiction of brutality than that trio or Blood Meridian, The road is one of the most devastating – and devastatingly bleak – works of fiction ever written. A cautionary tale of such concentration and strength that it unnerves you even to imagine the author imagining it. But not as much as sensing how dangerously close we are to its cheerless vision of the future becoming a reality.
If ever there were an argument for the political power of art which resides in a place apparently far away from politics or connected to it by the thinnest of threads, then The road is it.