‘The Road’ By Cormac McCarthy – Is this the bleakest novel ever written?


If you felt the harshness of winter in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, what would you do? Try to survive it? Walk down a road that leads to nowhere?

In the process, you might clash with cannibals, and create friction between you and the rest of the survivors who are trying to salvage some sort of life and truth.

Your desire for life may have died, and the same could be said of your son who is, perhaps, a young, timid boy who has dedicated his life to you and your decisions.

This all happens in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which could be the most depressing book ever written. It is also one of the most compelling!

In his novel, McCarthy conveys a world on its knees, a scorched land, which is looted by survivors who just want a glimmer of hope. This tale, which is dark in subject and substance, follows a man and boy suppressed by feelings that begin to boil over.

Yes, the text is wonderful and the sentences memorable, but could The Road be the bleakest portrayal of post-apocalyptic ruin ever put on the page? It could be, as the characters have no real optimism and no glitzy future, so what we get is a book full of beautiful anecdotes about pain and hopelessness.

When writing this novel, McCarthy utilised his ability to instil perfect lines and immaculate storytelling, even though the wording was heartbreaking.

There’s no future when it comes to The Road, and McCarthy’s prose reflects that. Deep in the pages, the boy and the man push a cart across a desolated, gravel-ridden road, to try to see if there is any point in living. They have two bullets, one for each of them, if everything becomes overwhelming.

Those dirty bullets exemplify the bleakness even more in a novel that, at the time, really pushed the boundaries of speculative fiction. McCarthy wrote with purpose and even flair when he needed to, in this book which describes grief and torment, and how they affect the human spirit.

The Road is a bleak read, but it is also so well crafted. Some of the prose is breathtaking, pushing the written word to the echelons. That being said, some people have branded The Road the worst book McCarthy ever wrote, labelling it a mess, even though it won the esteemed Pulitzer Prize for fiction.   

Some readers may have been put off by the darkness, the moroseness, the sheer vividness, and the violence. Admittedly, some aspects of the book are shocking due to the representations of death and cannibalism, but McCarthy was always known for writing books that were violent and, more often than not, unnerving. Take his magnum opus Blood Meridian, for example, which is a book totally bound by savagery and violence, which has sometimes pushed readers away.

The Road is one of the most sombre books ever written and could be judged as being the most gloomy. It has all the components to be classified as the most depressing novel too, but despite the darkness within, one must still consider the writing to be sublime and worthy.       

Have you read The Road? Do you think it is one of the bleakest books ever written? Let us know in the comments below.


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