Gothic Reading Group

Posted by Glennis Byron on February 29, 2008 in Blog tagged with

Reading Group: Cormac McCarthy, tadalafil The Road

In our last gothic reading group, we discussed Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a book a number of reviewers have been labelling ‘gothic’. Here are just a few of the issues that we considered.

One of the first things was, given the bleakness of this book, can the ending be seen as redemptive. What about that last paragraph describing the world that has been destroyed: ‘Once there were brook trout in the streams…’. Is this just pure nostalgia (and it is so beautifully, heart-achingly written) or is there more to it. That world is something ‘which could not be put back. Not be made right again’. But does the new family formed at the end suggest that perhaps, even if the world can’t be made right again, it can be remade differently? What is the point of the references to carrying the fire – in particular the child at the end asking ‘Are you carrying the fire’.

With that new family, maybe the suggestion is that some kind of ‘humanity’ can be reconstituted; it does often seem here that love and relationships are the main criteria left by which the ‘human’ can be defined or reclaimed. Much could also be said about the way conventional moral values are reaffirmed. Good guys don’t eat people; bad guys do. This seems a common concern in fiction dealing with cannibalism and survival. When religious laws and social laws are gone, on what basis can we form some kind of morality that keeps us ‘human’.

There seemed to be two conflicting responses to the cannibalism. On the one hand it might suggest that the majority of the survivors were now living on pure instinct; on the other hand, it might be said that cannibalism is an entirely rational response.

And still on the question of the ‘human’, we considered whether ‘humanity’ is suggested to be something innate (the child has it) that is eventually corrupted by society or if it is shown to be something taught (the child taught by the father). I’m not entirely sure which view won out.

Because the cause of the devastation is never directly specified, we wondered if there was anything that would allow us to decide whether it was the result of ‘natural’ causes or a man-made disaster. If it was something like a nuclear bomb, it seems strange that there are survivors who aren’t, apparently, suffering from radiation sickness. The ash perhaps suggests something different.

It was also interesting to consider how all those religious references are being used. Are religious references being secularised, or not. There’s that messiah like child.  One of the group had noticed the clocks stopped at 1.17, and checked out Revelation – once he’d pointed it out it did seem exactly the right place to look given the apocalyptic tone. The part from Revelation leading up to and including 1.17 can be found here; is it possible that this passage assumes new significance given that the reference to the clocks stopping at 1.17 is immediately preceded by the story of the burned man.

There’s also the title. Perhaps this is making some comment upon previous ‘road’ fiction, such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or at least answering the romanticism of such works. I fear I sidelined that particular discussion with a not entirely flippant suggestion about Thelma and Louise.

We had a few pedantic moments, demonstrating, no doubt, how well we are all cut out for academia. The erratic, inconsistent use of the apostrophe was a bit of an irritation. Can Picador not afford a decent editor – or perhaps we missed something and all that inconsistency was hugely meaningful (somehow I doubt it). And then there’s that moment when the narrative suddenly pops into first person for a whole paragraph. I can’t find this again – can anyone help me out with the page number?

The book is apparently being made into a film, directed by Australian film-maker John Hillcoat, starring Viggo Mortensen as the father and Charlize Theron as the dead wife. No doubt that will be a role that will be expanded in interesting ways. Not a Hollywood director, anyway, thank goodness, one can only imagine what could be made of the moment when the father salvages the last can of Coke on earth.

Finally, one of our group asked, particularly given that this was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007, what does this book suggest that Americans want to believe about themselves? It’s a really important question I think and a good one to end on – but I’m glad it was someone from America who asked it.

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