Man, how I loved this novel. Simultaneously grand and simplistic. A father and son - virtually the only characters in the book - are traveling through a post-apocalyptic America. Knowing that they would not survive another winter where they were, decide to head south in search of warmth, food, and possibly other people who they deem “good.” They are “carrying the fire” of what’s left of humanity. It is a bleak world - covered in ash due to a seeming nuclear winter (the exact cause of the calamity is never mentioned), cities utterly destroyed, forests nothing more than charred stumps of trees. Throughout the novel the nameless father is doing whatever he can to protect his nameless son, a lot of the time at the expense of his own health, which is slowly weakening throughout the story. The father is something of an isolationist, trusting no one, as they make their way south, trying to avoid roaming bands of cannibalistic tribes. The son, in contrast, shows a little more sympathy for the few poor souls they do wind up coming across along the way.
McCarthy creates a vividly bleak world, the father and son providing each other “warmth” as they struggle to survive and that is the core of the story - the relationship between father and son and that’s basically what you have here: a father and son story. It is also a journey story, in some ways epic and in other ways frighteningly simplistic - just like McCarthy’s prose here: simplistic yet extremely powerful; short sentences that create a very vivid picture of the world in which these two characters now live. It is definitely one of the bleakest novels I’ve ever read yet there seems to be a ray of hope underneath it all and despite the isolationism of the father, he carries on with the hope that there will be “something” left, if not for himself, then for his little boy. It is a very powerful and touching story in many ways and there’s no way to really describe it further without giving away what happens in the story or giving away the dark world it has become. You get the sense that the message here is despite how bad things may be in the current world that we all live, there’s still a lot to be thankful for, since this is the kind of world it can become.
Highly highly recommended