At my son's insistence, I've just read Pulitzer Prize winner, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It's a very grim end of the world story and I guess you couldn't find a book more different from a Mills and Boon, but I have very eclectic reading tastes, and I do love beautiful prose, which this book has in spades, despite its disturbing subject matter.
Richard had told me ages ago that he thought the last paragraph of this book was one of the finest passages he'd ever read, so that certainly kept me turning the pages.
But in truth, I found myself hooked from the start, reading with a kind of fascinated awe, applauding the heroic characters (father and young son) and desperate to see what would happen next and how the book could possibly end.
As one of my writer friends said: "I couldn't put it down. I wished I'd never picked it up."
I asked myself why people want to write and read books like this. Why choose gloom when there are so many feel good stories? I wondered if perhaps reading a dark book makes our return to the real world all the happier. Perhaps we're filled with gratitude that we're better off than the characters in the books. Another son (Andrew) told me that studies have shown that people who listen to heavy metal rock (noted for its dark and morbid themes) are actually surprisingly happy (i.e. happier than most) in their real lives.
On the other hand, some feel good fantasies might leave us feeling envious of the characters and dissatisfied with our lot. As a child, I'd emerge from an exciting Enid Blyton and feel very jaded about my boring little life in suburbia. It didn't stop me reaching for another, of course.
The Road did remind why some of the best romances take their characters to very dark places before they achieve their happy endings. As adults, I guess we choose books to suit our mood. I know that our little romances have helped many people in times when their lives have been particularly dark. One reader told me she read my books after 9/11 to help her calm down. Another read them beside her husband's hospital bed.
Anyway, on I read, travelling down the road with these unnamed characters... and I found the ending surprisingly uplifting. I haven't read any discussions of this book, but to me it seemed like a metaphor for our lives... we trudge on, often burdened by trouble and hardship, doubt and fear, but if we keep the faith and hang on to our code of ethics we find that even the worst that happens can still bring relief and reason to hope. I don't think I want to see the movie of The Road, where the awfulness of the post apocalyptic world will be blown up into huge graphic images, (even though I was very impressed with the young boy actor when he starred in Romulus, My Father). But there's a most definite feeling of redemption in the book's ending. And yes, the last paragraph is a stunner.