I absolutely LOVED this book It was recommended to me by my good friend, Sarah, who warned me that it was a bit morbid It is, but in a scientific and factual way It s about what happens after you dieliterally As a society, we are so intent on covering death up, hiding from it, avoiding it, and ultimately ignoring the fact that it is inevitable Granted, none of us want to meet our end in the manner that the couple in this book did attacked, robbed, and left for dead during a romantic picnic on the beach But the way Jim Grace describes the process of thier death and the effect it has on their estranged daughter is actually remarkably graceful, peaceful, even beautiful A very interesting readlike nothing I ve ever read before. This is a book about ordinary people This is painting by Van Gogh in 1888 titled Shoes The objects painted are the artist s own processions they are well used, experienced and passive Now, instead of a full analysis of Van Gogh s artistic merit which can be found in any high school art essay , try to picture his thought when he was painting this pair of shoes Were they chosen with particular intention Not really, since he did another painting with a black pair of boots in the same manner Why did he pick shoes of all possible objects Sunflowers, you can argue, are well, aesthetic naturally More importantly, these are his own shoes Remember, Van Gogh was nobody at the time, this would have been even insignificant then his portraits The shoes were not accidentally put into the picture, they were its sole occupants They had to be important Ok, so maybe Van Gogh really loved his shoes, but why did he paint them so scrubby and worn Notice how they are positioned slightly off the center and placed on domestic floorboard This is a composition you would use if you want to degrade a subject and emphasise its feebleness.In a way Being Dead is similar to Shoes The novel starts with two zoologists robbed and left dead on a beach It is not about the violence of the act or the consequences of it It is completely random and unremarkable, just like the rest of the cast So why couldn t I put the book down Van Gogh was one of the first to be so daring he painted the emotional weight of the object rather than the actual quality of it He managed to elevate a pair of shoes to a subject worthy of time and effort Similarly, Crace achieves the same result The characters and plot themselves are mundane, yet the way he illustrates the process of the cadavers decay and the little details of their brief existence contribute to the charm of the story Highly recommended. Lying In The Sand Dunes Of Baritone Bay Are The Bodies Of A Middle Aged Couple Celice And Joseph, In Their Mid S And Married For Than Years, Are Returning To The Seacoast Where They Met As Students Instead, They Are Battered To Death By A Thief With A Chunk Of Granite Their Corpses Lie Undiscovered And Rotting For A Week, Prey To Sand Crabs, Flies, And Gulls Yet There Remains Something Touching About The Scene, With Joseph S Hand Curving Lightly Around His Wife S Leg, Quietly Resting Flesh On Flesh Dead, But Not Departed YetTheir 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 The Corpses Were Surrendered To The Weather And The Earth, But They Were Still A Man And Wife, Quietly Resting Flesh On Flesh Dead, But Not Departed Yet From That Moment Forward, Being Dead Becomes Less About Murder And About Death Alternating Chapters Move Back In Time From The Murder In Hourly And Two Hourly Increments As The Narrative Moves Backward, We See Celice And Joseph Make The Small Decisions About Their Day That Will Lead Them Inexorably Towards Their Own Deaths In Other Chapters The Narrative Moves Forward Celice And Joseph Are On Vacation And Nobody Misses Them Until They Do Not Return Thus, It Is Six Days Before Their Bodies Are Found Crace Describes In Minute Detail Their Gradual Return To The Land With The Help Of Crabs, Birds, And The Numerous Insects That Attack The Body And Gently And Not So Gently Prepare It For The Dust To Dust Phase Of Death I was really looking forward to reading Being Dead I read a review mentioning it somewhere, and was intrigued ever since I have read several novels by Jim Crace by now, and found him to be a good stylist versatile author, with each subsequent book being a very different experience from the one before That being said, I sadly found Being Dead to be a great disappointment Being Dead is concerned with Joseph and Celice, a pair of middle aged zoologists who return to visit the coast where they met as students than 30 years ago, with hopes for a romantic evening Instead they are disturbed in an act of intimacy by a stranger who kills them both and plunders their possessions, leaving their naked bodies left to rot.What follows if a non linear accounts of Joseph s and Celice s life their careers, marriage and relationship with estranged daughter and post mortem the slow decay of their dead bodies, and how they react to elements, insects and animals now feasting on them This is an interesting juxtaposition, but the book never evolves much beyond it there is little to make us care for Joseph and Celice, both in life and death, and the whole book ends up being of an experiment than a novel Why should we care for these people Did we learn anything at all from their story These questions can be answered only if a book meets the prerequisite of having both real people and real story, but Being Dead sadly ends up having neither. A Lyrical ThanatographyJim Crace s Being Dead is a perfect example of why spoiler warnings are nonsense in literary fiction On the very first page, we know what happens to the characters here they are murdered and left exposed in their embarrassing mortal fragility Although that would be an end in linear time, Crace uses his magical and lustrous prose to take us readers beyond this simplistic approach.His braided narrative that weaves three alternating story lines together resembles the sector of a circle In its narrowest point or center of the circle are the couple s postmortem days From there he works backwards and expands time in reverse, reporting their events on their day of death in a second narrative thread And then, in a third one, he expands time even further backwards and explores another day of significance thirty years before, when Joseph and Celice had met and first made love on the same beach which is now their deathbed, painted by Crace with the tone of documentaries on Un Natural Geographic.In Crace s hands, the naturalistic description of such a lugubrious process as bodily decomposition is alchemized into a lyrical thanatography Just as in his spectacular Harvest, with delicate probing he places his events in the realm of possibilities While giving a precise though poetic account of what actually happened, he goes beyond that and shows what else could have happened I particularly love this in his images, which are never about one thing alone, but also about all the possibilities from which that one thing was chosen.His non linear story constructed on the framework of the six days till discovery of the bodies works like a reverse Genesis Man and woman, taken from nothingness, here return to nothingness But thanks to Crace s wonderful deconstruction of time, this walk back into nothingness is not a bleak chronicle of extinction In the original Genesis, before man was made, a world had been created where he could live meaningfully Crace too creates using the technique of describing possibilities I mentioned above and enriching the dark end with all the meaning gathered in a lifetime a universe in which man s inverse birth, i.e death can take place in such way as not to deprive it of meaning that can only be attached to Life Non linear time handling is an effective instrument for him to inactivate the irrevocability of death Other authors have used this technique, as well, with similar effect More recently, Evgenij Vodolazkin built his wonderful The Aviator my review here in a non linear or unhistorical fashion and peeled back layers to explore guilt Hungarian author M rton Gerl czy based his family saga on a straight story line, while starting several threads that delved back in time helically, and thus neutralized the finality of all the sufferings that had taken place If I recall correctly, Jon McGregor s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things develops his plot using the same technique, though there initially we do not know exactly what the final event was Or, with a sombre purpose, Donna Tartt started her The Secret History with a character s death and before the reader could empathize, the narrator presented the events preceding it in such way as to frustrate any empathy in the reader.Thus death is just a point on the line of time, but it literally does not have the final say Crace disconnects life from the chain driven by inevitable death, and places it in a new dimension a dimension of meaning, tenderness, care, possibilities I would say, in this respect there is a rich spiritual substratum to his novel To conquer death, you only have to die, you only have to die. Amoebolites and monophyles enjoy eternity We do not We die We will live longer than dusk bugs for every bug must have its day but not nearly as long as land tortoises We re less than turtles We have to die before they do We must It s programmed that we will Our births are just the gateway to our deaths That s why a baby screams when it is born Don t write that in your notes They who begin to live begin to die It s downhill from the womb, from when the sperm locates the egg and latches on.And that s not the morbid part No, Celice and Joseph, an older couple, and both zoologists head out to the dunes They attempt sex, and come real close Then they are killed Then nature the sun, the rain, the beetles and the crabs has at their bodies That would be the morbid part We die, Jim Crace says Get over it, he seems also to be saying Other than that, their daughter who never really cared for them tries to find them when they turn up missing The police find them first, what s left But as she wonders if she s happy actually, or appropriately grieving, she finds a Mason jar in her parents home Nineteen little nubs Each of her child s teeth not counting the one she was forced to leave at school So, you know, it had its moments.I wasn t shocked I wasn t grossed out But I kept hearing that Dylan song, It s All Right, Ma I m Only Bleeding , as I was reading this and in particular the line That he not busy being born is busy dying. Another five star read for 2018 Three time lines wrap around the deaths of Celice and Joseph on a remote beach their decomposing bodies, how they came to be there, and their daughter s search for them None of the characters are particularly likeable, but all of them are so real Brilliantly written. One of the curiosities of contemporary Western literature is why Jim Crace isn t well known on this side of the Pond On the other hand, during the two years I spent underneath the Equator in Aotearoa I was introduced to a great catalogue of writers who have made no than a faint ping on the U.S cultural radar Even with the supposed borderless Nation of Internet, we Stateside bound lot live in our own world A big huge one, granted, so we can t catch everything But we miss a lot Don t get me started on the authors who create in languages other than English who will never be published or spoken of in the U.S Mostly because I don t know who the vast majority of them are Because I live here.Anyway Being Dead is my introduction to Crace, and this after first hearing of him just two weeks ago Yet this novel has heaps of awards National Book Award, New York Times Book of the Year, Whitbread now Costa Book Awards short list, American National Book Critics Circle see, America did take note Had I been paying attention in 2000 when it was making the rounds of Best lists, I surely would have sought out Crace and his brief, elegiac novel I find the whole thing a bit confounding Being Dead is highly stylized and so meta It s full of symbolism and writerly tricks, like made up species and poets and legends and cultural practices Hint don t waste any time looking up anything unfamiliar on Wikipedia You ll get a great big Crace Gotcha Just read the damn book Gobs of gorgeously pretentious writing you get seduced by and swallowed up in its richness, like duck confit or Sauternes It contrasts the minutiae of decay with abstract atheism It s like watching a Terence Malick film and pretending that you know what you re supposed to be getting out of the deep themes and esoteric observances, but really, you just like the pretty pictures I m sounding cynical It s not that I don t think this is an astonishingly composed novel It is Parts of it are breathtaking But this reader enjoyed the central characters far when they were dead than when they drew breath Part and parcel of this conundrum is that I enjoy Crace s writing when he is alone with his dead characters than when he is their puppet master as they interact in the world Dead, our murdered protagonists Joseph and Celice are beautiful, humane, tender, multi layered, Technicolor beings Alive they are crashingly dull As are their lives and their histories Dead they are mysterious, life giving, splanchnic and viscous Alive they are vapid I wouldn t venture to recommend this to anyone, because I don t want to be responsible for keeping someone up at night as they listen to their bodies die Or because I don t want the sound of someone throwing this book across the room to wake me up I m very glad to have read it I will seek out other novels by Jim Crace But I won t pretend to like them. Craft and good writing make this book a hit with many readers Innovative form and thinking prose set the right words in the right places The story brings readers an introspective reflection upon death, seen through the lens of a married couple whom it overtakes.The form of the story weaves along three tracks One moves the couple back in time from the occasion of their deaths the next parallels that with a forward moving tale of their early lives and the final track contrasts with the first two the physical disposition of their bodies, and with other impersonal events unfolding in the days after their deaths, juxtaposing untended corpses with their living antecedents So far so good But as the actual story unfolded, I started having problems.Now the theme of doomed flesh has been a recent innovation, but only in visual media I first noticed it in nature programs that show what happens after the kill In one, about the , my eyes popped as I saw piranhas strip some hapless mammal to its bones in forty seconds flat In another, about Africa, my jaw dropped as the camera lingered upon insects I have never even heard of, showing them devouring a dying giraffe in a similar instant, almost before the animal s head hit the ground Demise of the flesh is also the subject of the recent documentary about that body farm in Tennessee where the decomposition of human cadavers is studied you know, the one broadcasting last year on an almost endless loop so you couldn t avoid it no matter what American crime serials like CSI now stress close ups of drying or decaying body parts, meaty human bone fragments, blood spatter and what have you Film gave us Eyes Wide Shut, in which Tom Cruise leans in as if to kiss the dead streetwalker in the morgue I used to imagine what would happen at that garish moment if Tom had slid out his warm, wet tongue to glide it along her chilled, bluish green skin Needless to say, the theaters would have been packed to the girders As it stands, the movie was a total cop out, not just for that but for the pathetically botched orgy scene as well Enough What these visual treatments suggest is a market, so it was only a matter of time before writers tried to convert images to words Crace attempts a seamless stitching, yet the postmortem descriptions stand stubbornly apart from the narration of the first two temporal strands It s like reading two books Compounding the problem is the third person voice Though understandable, it discourages sympathetic identification The reader becomes an observer, not a participant Pushing away the reader as well is the couple, two British doctors of zoology Here s another idea with merit zoology nature materialism This couple expresses perfectly the impersonal quality the author seeks But their status as British academics puts them in a league most readers cannot hope to love Nothing I read of their lifestyle elicited my sympathy Their clothing, housing, breakfast choices, entertainment and all around attitude were as alien to me as if they had dropped from the sky A colder and cheerless pair I have never come across Their icy standoffishness depicts a slice of humanity so removed from most that it cadges the imagination This book is about death, we are told, about how life is really an aberration, death our real destiny Even a baby is born dying, we read Life is fragile, fleeting, impotent scarcely worth the effort except by pitiable self delusion The point is stated page after page, and even during the same paragraph, wherein three or four sentences express it in different words Take away the creative writing that covers the repetition and say hello to a 200 page exaltation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.Dwelling on ruined flesh has no appeal for me in books than it does in the visual media, and I found the story hard to engage beyond a creeping feeling of mild disgust Being Dead has won a major book award Its writing really is superior the contrast of life and death is its key literary innovation This may be exactly what many readers are looking for, and for them the rest will be secondary Then there are peculiar and narrowly focused minds that can fully appreciate the precise contents that flesh out the story So with those two exceptions, I do not recommend this book. This opens with a grisly murder in a beautiful spot and such counterpoints are the nature of the story and its telling One thread of chapters starts near the end of the story and goes back initially, but then forwards too , while the other thread starts many years earlier and only goes forward, building the expectation of the two threads meeting at the end of the book It describes death and decay in detached detail in a way that is simultaneously disgusting and beautiful passages are searingly poetic It needs the beauty, because in may ways it is a painfully empty story, full of loss, misunderstanding, distance, waste and pointlessness But it s actually rather a good book.
James Jim Crace is an award winning English writer His novel Quarantine, won the Whitbread Novel award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize Harvest won the International Impac Dublin Literary Award, James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.Crace grew up in Forty Hill, an area at the far northern point of Greater London, close to Enfield where
- 196 pages
- Being Dead
- Jim Crace
- 12 December 2018 Jim Crace