Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Just Finished: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (and Bus Journey Paranoia)

The rumblings of discontent alluded to in my previous post seem to have blown over. The office was a happy place full of mirth today. On my way home, I jumped off the train just in time to jump on a bus. As soon as I got on I felt them judging me. The hard core of bus passengers - those that buy a ticket and travel from one end of the route to the other. You see, I do get the bus fairly regularly on my way home...and in all honesty I could walk home - it's only a mile or so - and I feel like the hardcore know this, and think I'm lazy. Today was worse than usual; there was a little official looking man surveying people on the bus. I was dragged from my music bubble by the question:
"Excuse me sir, do you have an Oyster card or a travelcard?"
Come on tbr, you know this one. "An Oyster Card!" I stated proudly.
"And do you top up in the shop or at the station?"
"Shop my good man, it avoids the queues!"
"And how far are you travelling on this bus today?"
"And how far are you travelling on this bus today?" The bus fell silent. Where before there had been chatter and the white noise of IPods on too loud, there was nothing. The driver stopped the bus and turned round. All the lights went off apart from the one above my head.
"Erm...well...erm...the end of the road." I mumbled, shamefaced.
"The end of the know, near the pub."
"Oh." And normal service resumed. Should I be embarrassed by this? Perhaps not, although I'd prefer my laziness not to be quite so obviously exhibited, held up for the delight of the long-distance traveller. I even considered rushing to defend my honour, by saying that I don't often take the bus, I always walk when I can, and the roads are like ice rinks. Trouble is, this would have made me look guilty, and I would also have been lying. Fortunately I wasn't alone, there were three suited and booted types and a student who gave the same response to the dreaded final question. We all got off at the same stop. We all felt ashamed.

In other news, today I finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy. My expectations were high - the inside covers are crammed full of rave reviews and I'd heard good things. I honestly can't decide whether it met my expectations or not. Let me explain. I'd like to start with what I didn't like.

Firstly, and in this the fault is mine, this is a bloody awful book to read in January. The sky is grey, the bank account's empty and the whole country's on a post-Christmas comedown. Dead Christmas trees line the streets and there are no drinks to be had after work. Everything is grey and everyone is miserable. And my word, what a miserable book. However, its depressing plot is not a fault, not in the slightest. I should just have thought about it a bit more, and chosen something a bit more uplifting from my collection, to divert me in these difficult first days of 2010. Let's face it, if you wrote about a trek through post-apocalyptic America and made it sound happy, it probably wouldn't be a very realistic book - I should have seen this in advance.

My biggest problem with this book though, is the lack of punctuation. I'm not a grammarian - I make plenty of mistakes, but I do try to write correctly. McCarthy, however, leaves out as many commas, apostrophes and question marks as he can, which in my most humble opinion leads to quite an uncomfortable read. I wouldn't mind if the lack of punctuation meant something, so, in case it did, I googled it. One person quite cleverly explained it by saying it was symbolic; just as the protagonists cast aside everything that isn't absolutely necessary, McCarthy omitted any embellishments in the text, leaving the style as bare as the landscape they were travelling through. I would have appreciated that, but apparently he always writes like that, and this stripping away of embellishments theory doesn't apply to his other works. Someone else said it was evidence of McCarthy's 'post-post-modernism'. Now, I'm not sure what that means but I would have looked into it. I would have, but I found out, thanks to Wikipedia, that he just sees no reason to 'block the page up with weird little marks.' This I don't agree with. There is a point, and that point is to make things easier to read, and the lack of punctuation made me struggle. I could be missing something, I probably am, but I found myself skim-reading whole paragraphs, yearning for a comma, or noticing missing apostrophes rather than actually reading the text.

Now, unlike the book, this isn't all doom and gloom. Despite what I said above, part of me loved the book. It made me look forward to the commute a bit more than usual, and apart from my gripe above it's a fantastic story. The relationship between father and son, the way they both support, protect and rely on each other, was beautifully presented. And the boy...the boy - if I ever had kids, I'd want him. Parts of the book were so heartbreaking I nearly put it down; the things the boy had heard of but never seen being one of the things that depressed me most. It also makes everything around you seem a little bit more fragile. It is a great book, and I have a feeling I'm going to keep thinking about it for a long time, I just missed the commas.


  1. If you want to ride the bus, then by all means ride the bus! Don't feel guilty. In my lack of public transit city. I used to work three blocks from where a I lived, and people used to pass me on foot enroute and ask if I needed a ride.

  2. What a nice thing to do! I wish more of my fellow east Londoners were that accommodating...