Combining beautiful, flowing pose with some of the deepest, darkest imagery found anywhere in fiction, The Road is a modern classic, and to many people, a book without equal. But with that said, there are a handful of novels that capture the same bleak atmosphere, and the same poignant relationships. So today, I’ve dug through the annals of post apocalyptic fiction, and uncovered a handful of books like The Road.
Cormac McCarthy’s Bleakest Books
Let’s get the obvious recommendations out of the way: if you loved The Road, you’ll probably love McCarthy’s other novels. After The Road, there are three novels which particularly resonated with me:
- No Country for Old Men is an intense and, at times, genuinely scary look at a drug-deal gone very wrong (and an awesome Cohen Brothers film).
- Blood Meridian is a horrific, violent and historically-inspired take on the classic Wild West tale.
- Child of God is a haunting story of isolation and depravity.
All three are McCarthy at his best: beautifully poetic and indescribably graphic. However, if you’re looking for other post apocalyptic books in the same lonely, bleak vein as The Road, it’s time to look elsewhere. I’ve hand-picked five stellar post apocalyptic novels, each one reminiscent of The Road through its story, atmosphere or characterisation.
Sound good? It’s time to find your next read, as I round-up five books like The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
1) The Gunslinger – Stephen King
The Gunslinger is the first instalment of King’s incredible The Dark Tower series. The story follows Roland Deschain, a lone gunslinger traversing the desolate expanses of Mid-World: a plane of existence slowly unravelling and decaying.
Roland’s lonely wandering, and the malevolent characters he encounters on the way, will feel extremely familiar to fans of The Road. There’s even a striking similarity between two of the book’s main characters: with the dynamic between Roland and the young boy, Jake, taking on a distinctly father-son vibe at certain points of the novel.
2) The Death of Grass – John Christopher
In The Death of Grass, the world’s supplies of wheat, grains and grass have been decimated by a mysterious virus. Anticipating a cataclysmic food shortage, the British government decides to take extreme measures to try and control the crisis.
The novel’s protagonist gets wind of the impending disaster, and it’s here the parallels with The Road begin: a small band of family and friends attempting to make their way across the emerging battleground that is middle England, in a bid to find safety and security at a distant refuge. The roving band of survivors even includes a gunslinger of their own: something which proves to be the group’s eventually downfall.
3) On the Beach – Nevil Shute
On the Beach takes a very different approach to the apocalypse, but it’s in the story’s bleak, despairing and cruelly realistic atmosphere we find the most similarities with The Road. Set on Australia’s coastline, the story follows a handful of survivors as they watch the end of the world unfold around them.
With most of the world’s population obliterated, it’s only a matter of time before the clouds of smothering radiation make their way across the ocean, to the last bastion of humanity. Like The Road, the characters in On the Beach find themselves powerless in the face of impending disaster: and it’s their slow, sad reflections on the futility of existence that mirrors The Road’s own tragic musings.
4) The Postman – David Brin
David Brin’s classic post apocalyptic novels bears a lot of similarities with the The Road. Devastating apocalypse, destroying civilisation and rendering all technology obsolete? Check. Violent bands of survivalists roaming the devastated countryside? Check. Survivors forced to scavenge through the ashes of their destroyed world? Check.
And though the story’s atmosphere feels, at times, almost as bleak as The Road, The Postman builds towards a more uplifting climax, hinting that better times may be around the corner – making it a perfect choice for people that felt The Road was perhaps just a shade too bleak.
5) The Children of Men – PD James
Of all the books like The Road, it’s The Children of Men that gets my vote for the closest in spirit and atmosphere. Though the fundamental premise of the two novels is very different (an unexplained apocalypse in The Road, versus an unexplained bout of infertility in The Children of Men), it’s PD James’ beautiful, flowing prose that manages to evoke McCarthy’s own style so vividly.
Both novels deal with a story of tragic parenthood, and at the conclusion of each bleak and desperate tale, both stories even offer the same style of bittersweet resolution.
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