The Old Man and the Waste Land by Nick Cole

Rating 8.5/10
The novel is written in a sparse style that perfectly suits the landscape it portrays

I saw The Old Man and the Wasteland described as a meeting of Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. That was all it took, I purchased it seconds later and began reading first thing next morning. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a novel I hold up there as one that had the most impact on me as a reader. It was heartbreaking, dark, beautifully written. It set the bar high for novels of the same ilk to come.

The Old Man and the Wasteland is the story of an old man living in the years after a nuclear war has destroyed most of the world. The Old Man is part of a village of salvagers, living in a shed off to the side of lonely Highway 8 as it cuts through the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States.

"Can you let go of what is gone? I think at first I felt that I could not go on. The things I lost were too painful and I could not imagine a life without them. I remember feeling awful. All the time. But I cannot remember when I changed. When I thought of salvage. When I thought of what was today, and not of what had been or what was lost."

I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction and I enjoyed The Old Man and the Wasteland. It’s not on the same level as McCarthy’s The Road but then little is. It is in itself a very well written, pleasingly succinct story that features a lead whose company I felt comfortable in, seeing the world through his eyes and learning about it through his thoughts. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel about a man fighting alone against nature and Cole has leaned on this influence and his Old Man finds himself paired up against nature once again. But this time the climate is radioactive, the landscape blighted. What I did like was that the author did not focus on the barbarity that most post apocalyptic books do, Cole was more interested in highlighting the struggles that individuals would face in such a situation, where the survivors have to scavenge to survive and the old man, who used to be adept at it, has hit a dry spell and his usefulness - and thereby his life itself - are reaching a time of crisis. He needs that one big ‘catch’, he needs to find salvage that will benefit his village.

As with The Road we never fully discover what happened to the world. We do see some of the past through flashbacks and we know that nuclear weapons were used, but we don’t know much else. And we don’t really need to, this is a story about an old man battling to stay alive.

I would definitely recommend this novel to those who love the post-apocalyptic genre. The time spent with the Old Man is immensely rewarding, his trials instilled empathy in me as a reader and I rooted for him all the way along. The novel is written in a sparse style that perfectly suits the landscape it portrays. The characters are strong and the dialogue - both internal and external - are realistic and flow nicely. You should give it a go.

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