Sunday, September 05, 2010

Two sad ones

I've made the mistake of reading two books with a lot of sadness almost simultaneously, and even though I've finished them both several days ago I'm having trouble shaking off the melancholy feeling I'm left with.
The biggest culprit is Cormac McCarthy's The Road. We chose this for the book club, so I started reading it quite soon after the last meeting, but after only thirty pages or so I had to put it away for a while. The Road is like one big howl of anguish. It's wonderful, genius, but it's a hard book to read. So when Mockingjay came I read that in between like. The final of the Hunger Games trilogy includes the deaths of many people that we've come to know and care about, and though it is not at all as brilliant as The Road in a literary sense, it's good solid young adult fiction. The choices and horrors that face Katniss, Peeta and the others in this final war against the Capitol are truly grim ones, especially if you like me are a sensitive soul and can easily imagine them as really taking place - cue much sobbing. The most frightening thing of course is that the people who want to take over from the Capitol might just be as bad as that regime of terror. Without rubbing the reader's face in it there are a lot of ethical discussion and dilemmas. A good end, despite being heart-breakingly sad.

On this note of fictional, but real, grief I went back to The Road, and immediately felt myself tensing up, a knot of stress and pain forming in my gut - this is how good this is. For some reason that is never made entirely clear, the whole world has been ravaged by fires, and the few survivors are left struggling to stay alive. Most of them have become cannibals, roaming the land searching for weaker victims. Especially children. Through this world of ash walks a man and his son (maybe six years old or so), towards the sea. For no real reason, except to see if it might be better there. There is nothing. They just walk, and hide, and starve, and they only have each other, and the man loves his son so much he knows that despite saving the last bullet in the gun to kill the boy if he has to, he never can, he never will. Just keep moving , just walk a little more, just stay alive.

Luckily, just after I'd picked it up again the man and the boy encountered a dog barking in the distance, which lightened the mood for me enough to help me keep going and finish it. Although I do admit I didn't do the prose justice at all, I had to read quickly quickly to get to the end because it was tearing me apart. Even though the book ends on a strong note of hope I'm left with this extraordinarily strong tense feeling, coiled up inside me like wire. One of the best books I've ever read, one of the hardest. I've been crying for days. Not quite sure what to do with myself.

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