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Quarantine [Paperback]

Jim Crace
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 April 1998
Two thousand years ago four travellers enter the Judean desert to fast and pray for their lost souls. In the blistering heat and barren rocks they encounter the evil merchant Musa, who holds them in his tyrannical power. Yet there is also another, afaint figure in the distance, fasting for forty days, a Galilean who they say has the power to work miracles ...

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (2 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014023974X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140239744
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 648,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The story of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness is surely among the most celebrated and widely diffused narratives in Western culture. Why, then, would Jim Crace choose to retell it in strictly naturalistic, non-miraculous terms? The obvious answer would be that the godless novelist is trying to debunk divinity--to take the entire New Testament down a notch. And at first, this does seem to be the case. Crace's Jesus first got religion as an adolescent, and "was transformed by god like other boys his age were changed by girls." His peers view his spiritual fervour as a youthful eccentricity. Even now, as the thirtysomething Jesus heads out to the Judaean desert for his 40-day retreat, he's perceived by his fellow anchorites as a flighty and impractical Galilean. They even call him "Gally" for short--and what sort of deity answers to a nickname?

Yet Crace is hardly the jeering materialist we might expect. As Jesus takes to his cliff-top cave, the author renders his religious transports without a hint of irony, and with a linguistic elegance that can hardly be called disrespectful: "The prayers were in command of him. He shouted out across the valley, happy with the noise he made. The common words lost hold of sound. The consonants collapsed. He called on god to join him in the cave with all the noises that his lips could make. He called with all the voices in his throat." And while most of the temptations of Christ are visited upon him by humans--by the motley crew of his cave-dwelling neighbours-- he resists them with what we can only call superhuman will. Quarantine does, of course, operate on a fairly realistic plane. Jesus dies of starvation long before his 40-day fast is complete, and his fellow retreatants, who take centre stage throughout much of the novel, are much too confused and brutal ever to figure in any Sunday school pageant. Still, Crace leaves at least the possibility of resurrection intact at the end, which should ensure that his brilliant book will rattle both believers and non-believers alike.


‘Stunning. A writer of hallucinatory skill’ John Updike

‘Completely captivating’ Literary Review

‘Absolutely compelling’ Observer

‘Dazzling, gritty brilliance. This is a novel of scorching distinction’ Sunday Times

‘One of the finest novels I’ve read in years’ The Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
Miri's husband was shouting in his sleep, not words that she could recognize but simple, blurting fanfares of distress. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A village view of God that was not scholarly." 12 Sep 2003
From its dramatic opening in which a trader lies dying in a tent while his caravan continues on to Jericho without him, to the confusing days following the death of Jesus, Crace's novel of forty days' "quarantine" in the wilderness startles, fascinates, and ultimately haunts. Readers who embrace a literal interpretation of the Bible may be offended by the premise and plot of this novel, in which Jesus and four other pilgrims seek spiritual enlightenment in separate caves in the bleak wilderness. Each, including Jesus, faces personal demons as s/he wrestles with solitude, starvation, and thirst. For those who regard events in the New Testament as symbolic, rather than literal, the novel offers a surprising new way of experiencing and interpreting the trials in the wilderness, the death and burial of Jesus, and ultimately the influence of Jesus on succeeding generations.
Crace's descriptions of the natural world are breathtaking. Using vivid verbs, musical cadences, unique metaphors, and acutely perceived observations about man, nature, and the spirit, he brings the wilderness into sharp focus, often personifying nature and its creatures without a trace of romanticism. "The clouds came down to sniff the hills, to scratch their bellies on the thorns," "Clouds and lightning moved away, banging on their shields," and sounds of wind that "could be mistaken for the vast percussion of the storm-pressed, canvas billows of a ship" are among the hundreds of vibrant and unique images which bring nature to life and illustrate man's closeness to it. With a similar focus on men as humans within nature and the wilderness, he attempts to recreate the quarantine experience and man's desire to connect with a higher power.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God the Teenager 5 Jun 2001
By A Customer
If there are writers more protean than Jim Crace, novelists more determined than he not ever to write the same kind of book twice, they keep well hidden. Crace's previous novels had settings as varied as these: prehistoric earth (The Gift of Stones), metropolitan Britain a few years in the future (Arcadia), and Cornwall in the 19th Century (Signals of Distress). Lest we should see a pattern developing, he has gone hiking and this, his fifth novel and already something of a modern classic, takes place in Judea, two thousand years ago. The hero is called Jesus. He is from Galilee. He is a carpenter by trade. How original.
Words lose their meanings and I suppose it is a sad reflection on the times to note that for most people now the word 'quarantine' conjures up the image of six months of doggy hell; or, just possibly, the director of Pulp Fiction. The founding meaning is gone to most, but the book reminds us that quarantine originally meant a period of 40 days and nights alone, often fasting, done with the aim of achieving some personal or spiritual goal. (The duration alone is retained in the French 'quarante'.) The supporting characters in Crace's novel are four people pursuing such a quarantine in search of relief for their respective problems ("madness, madness, cancer, infertility"). The fifth is Jesus, a young man of zealous disposition. The other four will break their fast every night: a sign that they don't really believe that god will provide for them, let alone that he will cure their maladies. Jesus is different:
"His quarantine would be achieved without the comforts and temptations of clothing, food and water. He'd put his trust in god, as young men do. He would encounter god or die, that was the nose and tail of it. That's why he'd come.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
Utterly captivating from start to finish, this is the tale of four travellers - and a mysterious fifth - who arrive in the Judaean wilderness in search variously of spiritual inspiration and solace. But the wilderness already harbours the cruel and sadistic merchant Musa and his downtrodden wife Miri, abandoned by their merchant companions: for Musa is sick, apparently close to death. But then the mysterious fifth pilgrim (Jesus) almost unwittingly heals him; and for the others, this is not good news.

The reinvigorated Musa, though clearly intrigued by Jesus, tyrannises the travellers, all of them intent on spending forty days - a quarantine - amidst the rocks and scrub of this desert place. Throughout their various trials, mostly of Musa's making, Jesus remains an unseen presence and influence, a source of vaguely-sensed hope and expectation. In a surprising, marvellously hallucinatory and ambiguous ending, a windstorm/the Spirit of Jesus/the travellers' own yearnings and longings give rise to surprising inner transformations, and lives are changed. As Musa himself finally descends from the wilderness, there is the merest hint that the encounter, and the wilderness itself, may have tempered in some small degree even his rapacious, cruel and greedy nature.

Among the many impressive facets of Crace's work is the power of his descriptive writing: the harshest of environments is at times conjured up with a beauty that almost aches. But it functions, too, almost as a personality in its own right, as a shaper of character and spirit, so that it becomes impossible to say where the travellers' various responses to Jesus are objective spiritual encounter or subjective state of mind imposed by their interaction with the environment. This makes for an incredibly resonant, layered and suggestive read, capable of satisfying on all sorts of levels at once.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
This was fine. Not my usual genre but very intriguing.
Published 14 hours ago by penrhynian
5.0 out of 5 stars Quarantine
I love Jim Crace and this was as good as his other books
Published 11 days ago by Jenny Dorset
3.0 out of 5 stars May take 40 days to read....
Undoubtedly a good writer, and there are some excellent characters, but you need to do more than that to create a good book. He could have done so much more with this material. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Reader 1616
5.0 out of 5 stars Entrancing story
You could say it is based on the Bible Story of Jesus 40 days in the desert.
A meditation in nature, wilderness and human nature. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Josefina de U
4.0 out of 5 stars Book review
I read the Man Booker short-listed 'Harvest' by Jim Crace, enjoyed it immensely and this encouraged me to read some of this author's earlier work. Read more
Published 9 months ago by DR MARTIN E KALAHER
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting
This was a very interesting and unique book and Jim Crace should be commended for writing something so different. Read more
Published 9 months ago by twinmum
4.0 out of 5 stars A break from the norm.
A fictional slant on Christs 40days 40 nights saga. Not my usual cup of tea but a good book none the less.
Published 11 months ago by PB
5.0 out of 5 stars an unusual book
Different, intriguing, horrifying, beautifully written. I liked the way we drifted into it at the beginning and drifted out of it at the end.
Published 12 months ago by MRS J M KUHN
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacking
I stuck with this book based on the excellent endorsements on the cover. There is no doubting that Crace is a master when it comes to describing even the most mundane. Read more
Published 13 months ago by pauljimmyn
1.0 out of 5 stars tedious
I worked my way through this, thinking that 'shortlisted for the booker prize' was a recommendation, but it was like watching paint dry,and as tedious as 40 days in the desert... Read more
Published 14 months ago by egginbonce
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