Bush of Goats

Life's too short for empty slog. ans.

Where The Road leads

I haven’t read that many books lately. In between searching out ways to pay the mortgage (Factory work? Male escort? Decisions, decisions) renovating the house, the kids and my new found love of gardening, losing myself in a book seems, if not downright selfish, at the very least, a bit impractical. So, it’s a good few months since I read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

For me, reading a book has always had as much to do with the context in which it’s read as the words on the page. Perhaps Phillip Roth’s recent claim that reading novels will be a cultic entertainment within 25 years hints at this: that the linearity, the one-dimensional attention required to fully engage with one writer’s view of a world they have created is not something we’re interested in – or even capable of doing – anymore. There are too many other distractions; we’re too keen to see it interpreted as a movie, or a theme park or a pencil tin to care about what one measly author had to say about one measly slice of the universe.

So the context for this was perfect: we were leaving London and arriving in a semi-derelict rambling pile in the countryside. We were shedding a civilisation, as the man and the boy (the nameless characters at the heart of the book), walked through a devastated world. As I mentioned, it is months since I finished it and I’ve only now come round to writing about it as I didn’t want any immediate context to colour my judgement. But it’s been 6 months and it still comes back to me. I might have already read the greatest book I will ever read. And if I have, that’s OK.

It’s one of those which makes you want to write a book, and at the same time, is so comprehensively, gobsmackingly brilliant that it makes all other writing irrelevant. It’s heart-rendingly bleak, impossibly tender, desperate, hopeful, horrifying, mundane, delightful and dreadful. It is both just a simple story and yet utterly post-modern. It is a science fiction novel you can’t divorce your reality from.

So, it was with very mixed feelings I heard they were making a film of it. I’m generally fine with films of books (apart from Watchmen) as it’s interesting to see what the scriptwriter thought was the theme, then what the director did with that. But for me, the written version of this particular story has already transcended any other possible interpretation in its post modern abandonment of its native form. Mostly, it’s because there’s no punctuation and the leads characters have no names, but the prose is so taught, so lean, that it renders form obsolete. It is a story told around a fire, a spoken word piece that, as extinction threatens all mankind, had to be written down to be remembered.

So in this context, the very idea of something as convoluted and elaborate as a film seems ridiculous. And unlike the novel, I don’t think film-making as an art is mature enough to destroy itself and rework the fragments in two hours.

But who knows? Maybe the film will do something incredible to audiences: maybe the multiplexes will be ripped apart and rebuilt on the outskirts of primitive villages as shrines to half-remembered deities.

The book on Amazon

Movie trailer on YouTube

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Previously…

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