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Books (alphabetically). Time line.
|The Pesthouse (2007) by Jim Crace.|
Many techniques present in books by Crace are a signature of his style:
Wonderful presentation of a jazz musician's process ... and implicitly of the process of any improviser ... you, me, Crace ... how we take what we know and fashion it into fire.
And as a presentation as a sofa-activist, it strikes a chord. It might be both self-confession and wishful thinking by the author.
It's less odd than any of his other books (which might win him a larger audience):
Also Blog of All That Follows.
A fascinating story of how people manipulate each other in love and trade. Although Crace has again created a slant-wise parallel universe for his story, with inventions of sayings and songs and so on, his characters are human, if sometimes a little naive.
Arcadia is in four sections. The first is a rather slow exposition of 80th birthday party of Victor, the produce baron, and his uncovering of what he considers a betrayal. The section opens:
|"No wonder Victor never fell in love."|
The second section is more interesting, looking back almost 80 years to Victor's poor childhood, early orphanhood, and gradual self-making.
In the third section, the competing plans and self-interests of the five main characters intersect and explode in a riot, for which the URCU (Urban Rapid Control Unit) must be deployed in Crace's most successful description of an urban riot.
And the short fourth section is an ironic coda to an ironic book. The penultimate chapter, in the voice of the man about to be Victor's biographer, closes:
|"I have the first line of his Life: 'No wonder Victor never fell in love.'"|
Though of course this book is a very small portion of a Victor's "Life".
This version of "Arcadia" invokes the tongue-in-cheek view of the simple and the pastoral. It also invokes the tombstone quotation:
"Even in Arcadia, I am there."
Also Blog of Arcadia.
Four fascinating stories in parallel: the life of a young woman after her parents are murdered, the life of her parents before the murder, the effect of nature upon the murdered bodies in the sand dunes for days before they are discovered, and something of the murderer.
The book is set in a vaguely Edenic land of manual labor, where the fields are ploughed with oxen, the grain are cut by men with scythes, and the harvest is gleaned and winnowed by hand. But it turns out that there are serpents within, not only three youths that fail to take responsibility for their arson, but also the whole village that imposes medieval punishment on three visitors to their land. In turn, punishments are imposed on them. No one (including the protagonist narrator) is a wholly "good" and responsible person, even including the map-maker, Mr. Quill.
A book of its times, of the "reap what you sew" variety, full of conspiracies, physical violence, presumptions, and revenge.
And as for Mr. Quill's map, the first one the villagers have seen:
|Mr. Quill's true account of here and now is not as honest as he hopes. He's colored and he's flattened us. No shadows and no shade. ... There are no climbs or slopes. The land is effortless: a lie. He hasn't captured time: how long a walk might take; how long a piece of work might take; how long the seasons or the nights must last.|
Also Blog of Harvest.
Delightful collection of 64 brief fictions, in Crace's signature modern-folk-tale style, about food, sex, desire, and death, and interesting foods and their combinations. Favorites include number 52, which ends:
|And that's not counting all the problems solved, and all the larders tidied up at last, the daughters satisfied, the heartburns eased, the diets honored, the separations finalized, and the blunders of the pasts concealed as gifts.|
and number 60, which begins:
|Our strangest restaurant, the Air & Light, survived five months before its joke wore thin.|
and number 64, the last and briefest:
Also Blog of The Devil's Larder.
Another book in iambics, which make the story a bit ponderous and I find distracting. His protagonist is a feeble and irresponsible actor, who seems to get each woman pregnant, especially the last time he has sex with her. Passive-aggressive, one might say. If Crace is trying to win sympathy for his character, it doesn't work on me. (Crace numbers his chapters by the sequence of conception, and indulges himself in opening with Chapter 6.)
For a more enthralling book by Crace, see his The Gift of Stones (the 6th best book I read in 2002), which addressed life in an ancient and pivotal time when a tribe moved from the Stone culture to the Bronze culture.
However, I like the refusal of Genesis to locate the nonexistent European country (a Crace trope) where this story is set, with familiar-yet-unfamiliar names of plants and customs: not England, France, Poland, ... maybe Hungary in a parallel universe?
Best review (i.e., the one whose opinions I share, except for the 'stirrings of sympathy') is that by Anthony Quinn, film critic for The Independent in London. Quinn writes:
"Ever since his first book, 'Continent', which was set on an invented
landmass, the topography in Jim Crace's fiction has contrived to be both
piercingly strange and naggingly familiar, an amalgam of the imaginary and the
realistic in which the local flora might be a fessandra bush
and the swag-fly is an irritant."
"As the book proceeds, one feels stirrings of sympathy for Lix that never quite break into curiosity. ... his plight remains oddly remote from us, since Crace is less interested in Lix as a forlorn individual than as a representative of mankind's baser instincts and motivations."
"Technically, Crace can be depended upon for an elegance of language, though one notices in this novel how often the aphoristic style rings false: 'Successful people are too busy, as the saying goes, to take care of the chickens.' Are they? What exactly have chickens to do with successful people? ... the sentences have a lyrical shimmer, but the closer one looks the less meaningful they appear. ... Genesis is a clenched and ponderous effort."
Published: 11 - 23 - 2003 , Late Edition - Final , Section 7 , Column 2 , Page 8
Also Blog of Genesis.
The Gift of Stones
by Jim Crace.
This unusual story occurs at an ancient and pivotal time when a tribe moved from the Stone culture to the Bronze culture. The upheavals and fears in their harsh world tell of the attractions and terrors of embracing the new and unknown. Jim Crace is a supple writer, inventing a fluid and plausible story much as those of the one-armed man in his novel.
Poetically, much of the book is iambic.
One of the best books read in 2002
|The Pesthouse (2007) by Jim Crace.|
Remarkable novel about a dystopia in a future world where North America loses its population and its nationwide organization. What is of rare and great value, however, is loyalty and love.
As in so many of Crace's books, this is a story a time that civilization is changing: see for example The Gift of Stones and Quarantine.
|"Everybody died at night."|
|"They could imagine striking out to claim a piece of long-abandoned land and making home in some old place, some territory begging to be used. Going westward, they would go free."|
Also Blog of The Pesthouse.
On many levels, this is an appropriate book to read during Lent, as it concerns the self-imposed quarantine and the giving up of food, drink, and comfort two millennia ago by seekers hoping to be helped by God. Perhaps it is a book about the pivot between 'Before Christ' and 'After Christ'.
This book is frustrating and annoying until the final chapter unfolds. Then, despite the long wade through Crace's hallmark iambics that struggle to slow down the reader, it is ultimately worth the effort.
What seems to be initially a book about unintended consequences ends up more like a book of intentions. Its theme of life-in-a-harsh-environment relates to Crace's best book, The Gift of Stones, while its presentation of corporeal death by starvation and thirst are a temporal prelude to his brilliant Being Dead.
It was a deserving nominee on the short list for the 1997 Booker Prize.
Also Blog of Quarantine.
Also Blog of Signals of Distress.
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