Phew. This is a brilliant, bleak, beautiful book, but an emotionally harrowing one, albeit with uplifting aspects (they always cling to a sliver of hope, however tenuous).
In the near future, a man and his son traipse south, across a cold, barren, ash-ridden and abandoned land, pushing all their worldly goods in a wonky shopping trolley. They scavenge to survive and are ever-fearful of attack, especially as some of the few survivors have resorted to cannibalism.
It is written in a sparse, somewhat poetic style ("cold autistic dark"), often detached (the characters are never named) and fragmented, to match the setting of the book. Even quotation marks and apostrophes are used sparingly (only where their absence might create ambiguity, e.g. we're and were), yet that somehow enhances the impact of the story, rather than distracting from it. Once I managed to think of it as a prose poem, I didn't mind the lack of punctuation nearly as much
. It it were typset as a poem, it might raise fewer hackles. In fact I think I think one reason some people don't "get" this book is that they read it as a novel that hasn't been proofread, rather than immersing themselves in it as a prose poem
Much of the time almost nothing happens, yet that makes it all the more compelling.
The boy is very imaginative, empathetic, moral and scared - a difficult combination in the circumstances. There is a deep love and care between man and boy, each projecting their own survival instinct on to the other. In their anxiety, aspects of their relationship take on a ritualistic tone, and some of their conversations are almost liturgical, invariably ending with an assurance that they're the "good guys" and things will be "okay", yet without becoming banal.
Sometimes they are more wary of being seen than others, and at one point I wondered how much was "real" and how much might be imagined or paranoia, but that doubt passed. Whatever disaster caused the destruction (it is never explained) was some years before and the father realises that despite their closeness, in some ways "to the boy he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed."
Much has been made of the intriguingly odd phrase "The snow fell nor did it cease to fall", which leapt off the page at me and is also discussed on Language Log: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1929.
A film is coming out in the autumn. It could be excellent, but if they try to make it too cheerful, it would lose its purpose.
WARNING: Having enjoyed this, I had high hopes for [b:Outer Dark|7711683|Outer Dark|Cormac McCarthy|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328784897s/7711683.jpg|791775] (my review here http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/117412020), but unfortunately I really didn't like that. I'm unsure whether to read more Cormac McCarthy now.