At the end of the road

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I have just reached the end of Cormac McCarthy’s utterly tragic The Road, which is possibly the most relentlessly despairing work of dystopian fiction that I have ever read.In some senses, the book’s vision of the apocalypse rests in the 1980s. It follows a father and son as they trudge along a ruined interstate highway under the dense clouds of a nuclear winter like wretched ancestors of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. But as they make their long way through the landscape of a burned America, you cant help but recognise global warming as the focus for the book’s bleak warning.

The movie of the book is in pre-production with the English-born actor Guy Pearce rumoured to play the leading role. It will be fascinating to see how he deals with playing a man who is starving to death. I have been reading a lot of contemporary dystopian fiction of late and what strikes me about it all is how much more despairing this generation of writers is when compared to those I read in my childhood (Huxley, Orwell, Wells et al). The last few years have not only given us McCarthy’s ashen sepulchre, but also Margaret Atwood’s forewarning of the dangers of playing god with Oryx and Crake and David Mitchell’s Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After, the pinnacle story in his magnificent Cloud Atlas. If dystopia is really just a form of contemporary satire, what do these foreboding stories tell us about our present?

Above right:  Cormac McCarthy – De Weg

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