This is one of those books that I found very difficult to choose between a 5 star read and a 3 star read.
I don’t believe you’ll find many other books out there quite like this one, I will give that to Crace. It’s hard to find a really original book out there this day and age, and this is certainly that for me.
The forward in the start of the novel says it all really…
Don’t count on Heaven, or on Hell.
You’re dead. That’s it. Adieu. Farewell.
Eternity awaits? Oh, sure!
It’s Putrefaction and Manure And unrelenting Rot, Rot, Rot,
As you regress, from Zoo. to Bot.
I’ll Grieve, of course,
Though Grieving’s never
Or coaxed a single extra Breath
Out of a Body touched by Death.
‘The Biologist’s Valediction to his Wife’ from Offcuts by Sherwin Stephens
It only gets worse from there. This is a story not about murder, but about death. DEATH. Don’t go into this novel expecting a happy ending. The ending is there, even before the story begins. Hell, even the title gives it away.
It depressed me if I am to be honest. Perhaps that is why I can’t decide if I should rate it high or low. Please don’t think the talk of death is what depressed me. For it was not. I actually found that a bit fascinating. But once again, I felt it was forced. Page after page after page after many a page talking about the changes in the body and of nature’s attempts to wipe their image from the face of her good clean Earth…well, it just felt forced. I felt as if Crace was trying to pound it into my brain. I can certainly see where many people would be turned off by that writing (an example to follow at the end of the review). Me? It’s things I’ve often wondered over. I once dreamed of being a forensic scientist. Of course, that was before I realised how much schooling in biology was needed! At any rate, I could deal with that, I just wished that the natural felt…well…more natural…ha!
What depressed me was, what’s the meaning of all of this. Tragically we are led to believe of this great love. Here’s a quote and proof for you!
The plain and unforgiving facts were these. Celice and Joseph were soft fruit. They lived in tender bodies. They were vulnerable. They did not have the power not to die. They were, we are, all flesh, and then we are all meat.
Joseph’s grasp on Celice’s leg had weakened as he’d died. But still his hand was touching her, the grainy pastels of her skin, one fingertip among her baby ankle hairs. Their bodies had expired, but anyone could tell – just look at them – that Joseph and Celice were still devoted. For while his hand was touching her, curved round her shin, the couple seemed to have achieved that peace the world denies, a period of grace, defying even murder. Anyone who found them there, so wickedly disfigured, would nevertheless be bound to see that something of their love had survived the death of cells.
See, there is romance there, is there not?
It made me happy to go on…”devotion defying even murder.” Whoa, Dude! I want some of that….
However, the more I read, the more I got depressed. I have to admit, I’ve struggled with religion that last few years…no….wait….that’s a lie….I’ve struggled with NOT struggling about religion for the last few years…This book….no, it’s not religious…well, not really….I guess, it’s just that here we are, swooning over this image of these two murdered people…projecting our views unto them…romantic views…even death can not end their love….blah blah blah….they died in each other’s arms…blah blah blah….their last instinct was to comfort one another…again, blah Blah BLAH…
The reality is, they are dead. They are crab bait. Further more, as the reader goes deeper into the story, the more they realise that perhaps it wasn’t some great love story…there lives weren’t really even that interesting even to them…
What if it’s true…we only have a short lifetime to be alive…and what if we’re all wasting it on “only” existing and not really LIVING? What happens when we, like every other single person we know, settles in life? We settle on the quiet night at home. We settle on keeping quiet to keep the peace. We settle on no change because it’s just so easy?
What if the greatest story of our lives is that some stranger makes up for us at the end? Because they romanticised some dead hand that seemed to reach for another? What if that’s the last story? One that isn’t even true? What happens if that last false impression isn’t even close to who we really were? Who will correct the misconceptions? How soon will all we tried to do in this life be lost after we have died? Especially if we leave no one behind that really gives a shit? What’s the point?
See! Brilliance! 5 HUGE stars…..
But damnit….that’s what I’m feeling in my head after reading the novel! Whilst reading it, after the half way point I just wanted it to hurry up and END!!! 3 FAT stars.
Here’s but one sample of Crace’s writing style. I loved it….and yet, page after page after page after yet page, I hated it as well….
The dead don’t talk – but bodies belch for hours after death. A woman bends to kiss her husband for the final time. Despite the warnings of the morgue attendant – sweet-breathed or not – she puts a little weight upon his chest, and is rewarded with the stench of every meal she’s cooked for him in forty years. The morgue could sound, at times, as if a ghoulish choir was warming up, backed by a wind ensemble of tubas and bassoons. It could smell as scalpy, scorched and pungent as a hairdressing salon. The breath of these cold choristers was far worse than the onion breath of clerks. But no one said that bodies weren’t sincere. There’s nothing more sincere than death. The dead mean what they say.
Until next time…
Buy it now Being Dead by Jim Crace