Sunday, 19 April 2009

The last book to make me cry...

When a book wins a literary prize it tends to put me off reading it. Being granted the title of “literature” by the so-called experts is not in my experience a guarantee of a good read. Ever since mankind stumbled blinking from the cave and squatted round the first fire a good story has been one of the ways we have sought entertainment. Let me repeat those words...a good story. List the elements of a good story and one of them you will find is plot and in their quest to concentrate on having the character lead the books the exponents of modern “literature” view the presence of plot as welcome as an untended backpack in an airport concourse.

There are books I’ve tried to read in this category where the prose adorns the page like a beautiful piece of lace; the minutae of the characters’ lives laid bare with all the precision of an X-ray...and yet... and yet... I couldn’t give a toss whether or not they found the family secret, the girl or indeed, their sanity. And bottom line - if your reader doesn’t care about your characters then you’ve lost.

This is long introduction to a prizewinner – the Pulitzer no less, that had quite the opposite effect on me. I absolutely loved The Road by Cormac McCarthy from the first word to the last. This book has had the Hollywood treatment and is about to appear at your local cinema, do yourself a favour and read the book first.

A father and son (we never learn their names) are alone in a post-apocalyptic world. They want to get to the sea, towards (possibly) survivable winters. “Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.” Ash falls like snow. The father is coughing blood, which forces him and his son, "in their rags like mendicant friars sent forth to find their keep", on to the treacherous road southward. They push their salvage in a shopping cart, fitted with a motorcycle mirror to keep watch on the road behind. Society has crumbled. There is no economy; no goods for barter. No food. Bands of cannibals patrol the road. The father has a pistol, with two bullets only: his wife, the boy's mother, has already committed suicide. If caught by others they will obviously rape his son, then slaughter and eat them both. He plans to shoot his son - though he questions his ability to do so - if they are caught.
The relationship between the father and son is central to the novel and acts as the engine to drive the story along in counterpoint to the scenes of utter desolation that surrounds them. As the boy and the father interact we live moments of beauty, despair and hope. I was so caught up in the text it felt as if I was observing real people on a quest towards safety. From time to time my worry became so great that I had to put the book down and go do something else.

Terrifying. Heartrending. Haunting.

And at the end I sobbed like a teenage girl at a David Cassidy concert.

Go on spill...what was the last book that made you cry?


  1. I'm not sure I can handle a book that sad. The last book I BAWLED over (apart from actually writing one of my own and having to kill somebody I liked) was Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman. Oh my GOD I thought I wouldn't be able to finish it because, um, you know when you can just see what's coming? Anyhoo, MD, Alison at Strident just recommended The Road as well (she said Firebrand sort of reminded her of it) so I think I will have to take the risk.

  2. You've still gotta give it a go. Its like one of those pop culture markers we should all touch.