The first time I met Jim Crace he was reading his luminous novel,
QUARANTINE. The story, about Jesus' forty days in the desert, is an
amazing tale, rich in meaning, thick with atmosphere. It won the
1997 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the
Booker Prize. From then on, I knew Jim Crace was going to be one of
my favorite authors. Crace didn't disappoint me with his newest
novel, BEING DEAD, a bare, honest novel but one filled with life
and color (however dark those colors might be).
What makes Crace one of the most gifted writers today is his
ability to write with such clarity, his ability to write about a
setting or a character's appearance, actions, thoughts, or ideas in
a sentence --- or less. BEING DEAD could easily be twice as long as
it is, but the language is direct and sincere, almost to the point
of being unsettling to a reader who usually prefers books in which
the subject matter is coddled and cajoled to their liking.
Joseph and Celice, married for almost 30 years, are murdered in the
dunes on Baritone Bay. The bodies aren't found for several days.
Bugs and birds and crabs begin to eat at their corpses. Their
daughter doesn't know where they are; and her journey to find her
parents, as well as the journey taken by Joseph and Celice on their
intertwined lives, make up the story BEING DEAD. It is a story not
about death, per se, but about life, and mortality, and how the
simplicity and very nature of death has been buried by new age
gurus and squeamish movies and heartwarming "Touched By An Angel"
"The blows across her face and throat cut off the blood supply and,
though her brain did what it could to make amends, to compensate
for the sudden loss of oxygen and glucose, its corridors were
pinched and crushed. The signals of distress it sent were stars.
The myths were true; thanks to a ruptured chemistry of her cortex,
she hurtled to the stars." It is not a rosy book, that is certain.
Death (absent the black robes and scythe) is squarely looked at
with honest objectivity, in particular the morgue scenes --- where
Crace details what happens to the bodies, what the family members
feel like when they see their loved ones with a tag attached to
BEING DEAD is also about growth. The growth of a relationship, that
of Joseph and Celice, from its early days of visits to the beach,
the same beach where they were murdered, to its marriage and
stability. Also, there is Syl, their daughter, who comes to terms
with her parents lives and deaths. Decay and growth, it is said in
the novel, are synonyms. Nowhere is this more abundantly clear than
in BEING DEAD.
Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 21, 2011