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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Apocalypse Wow
Jim Crace is an orderly, methodical writer (his friend Will Self said: "I wouldn't dream of saying that Jim's study demonstrates anal retention, but his marker pens are colour-coded and the distance between his keyboard and chair is painstakingly measured out"), so it's a surprise that the wait for his new novel, The Pesthouse, doubled the usual metronomic two-year gap...
Published on 7 Mar 2007 by John Self

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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Convinced
This is a well-written novel with a lot of interesting ideas, scenes, and well-drawn characters. I read it avidly, enjoyed it, but without genuinely caring for the fortunes of the two main characters as they searched for a better life elsewhere. It has been compared with Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as both deal with a pair of characters, bound together by love,...
Published on 21 Mar 2007 by D. Harrington


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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Apocalypse Wow, 7 Mar 2007
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Hardcover)
Jim Crace is an orderly, methodical writer (his friend Will Self said: "I wouldn't dream of saying that Jim's study demonstrates anal retention, but his marker pens are colour-coded and the distance between his keyboard and chair is painstakingly measured out"), so it's a surprise that the wait for his new novel, The Pesthouse, doubled the usual metronomic two-year gap between his books. It had better be good.

In fact, it had better be better than Cormac McCarthy's recently lauded The Road, because superficially the two have a lot in common. Both are set in a post-apocalyptic America, with straggling survivors battling against the collapse of civilisation and doing their best to evade marauding bandits. Like McCarthy's unnamed man and boy, the characters in The Pesthouse are heading for the coast, where they hope for... what? "We go. We carry on. That's what we have to do."

But where McCarthy produced an immersive, devastating fable, Crace has set his sights wider: and lighter. There are some threats in his story, but few real moments of terror, and his world is more colourful, because his language is too. Anyone who has read Crace before will know what to expect: a rhythmic and mythic prose, full of off-kilter but just-so detail. Dawn is "at the very moment that the owl became the cock;" seagulls are "stocky, busy, labouring, their bony wings weighted at the tips with black;" the ocean is "one great weeping eye. On clear days, we can see the curve of it."

One difficulty with this rich style is that often the drama, emotion or other engine of the story can be blocked out by it. You are so conscious of the beauty of the words that they stay on the surface of your mind without always sinking in. And sure enough, Crace's tale of Franklin, big and shy (and a bit of a muddler, like his earlier `heroes' Aymer Smith and Felix Dern), and Margaret, left by her family as a victim of plague (or "the flux"), to begin with lacks weight, and for the first half or so the book meanders along with going anywhere much. The feel is not particularly American, and more like a straightforward medieval setting than a future dystopia, or the sort of parallel world Crace has conjured before in Arcadia or Six (which, like The Pesthouse, showed us how well he writes about cities). Occasionally though, the glimpses of an industrial past do cut through and when they do, they work remarkably well:

"Colossal devastated wheels and iron machines, too large for human hands, stood at the perimeter of the semicircle, as if they had been dumped by long-retreated glaciers and had no purpose now other than to age. Hardly anything grew amid the waste. The earth was poisoned, probably. Twisted rods of steel protruded from the masonry. Discarded shafts and metal planks, too heavy to pull aside even, blocked their paths."

And it's around the halfway point that the story really begins to gather itself. Franklin and Margaret face separation, rape, death, and encounter a ripely painted series of characters. Allegories rise up reminding us not only of America's recent past but our own: immigration, prejudice, slavery, the scattering forms of family life. Crace even stops to have fun with some (literally) ineffectual religious cult members. By the time we reach the coast, he has fashioned most of all a remarkable love story out of the unlikeliest elements. And by the end it is moving and elegiac, altogether a warming and compassionate thing, and easily Crace's best book since Being Dead or even Quarantine.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Convinced, 21 Mar 2007
By 
D. Harrington (Suffolk, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Hardcover)
This is a well-written novel with a lot of interesting ideas, scenes, and well-drawn characters. I read it avidly, enjoyed it, but without genuinely caring for the fortunes of the two main characters as they searched for a better life elsewhere. It has been compared with Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as both deal with a pair of characters, bound together by love, travelling through post-apocalyptic lands in search of better fortune. Having read "The Road" immediately before this, I feel this is by far the lesser work and, in particular, it fails on two levels. The first is that the setting is unconvincing. This is supposed to be a post-technological future version of America, descended from some undisclosed apocalyptic catastrophe. However, there is nothing to convince the reader that things are actually all that wrong with the world. There's plenty to eat, animal and plant life abounds, and there are plenty of people around. So why no government, technology, education or information, etc? Seems things are OK on one side of a river and a lawless jungle on the other. The reader is at a loss to work out why and it's hard to accept it. Put simply the world of the Pesthouse is not a convincing one. The second problem is that there is something in the writing that makes you feel that the dangers faced by the protagonists are superficial and there is little doubt cast in the reader's mind that they will prevail. Compare this to "The Road": that novel's unrelenting bleakness, its horrificly godless world of death is totally convincing; and its ability to conjure an absolute dread of reading on - made even worse by the father's desperate and primal drive to simply keep his beloved son alive (to "carry the fire") in a dying world where the handful of surviving men and women are reduced to starving lunatics, killing and eating each other - is stunning. In comparison, this doesn't really hit the spot.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love in a dark place, 8 May 2007
By 
Mr. E. Neil "ericneil3" (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Hardcover)
'The Pesthouse' is packed with all the rich trace elements you would expect from a work by Jim Crace. Few writers have the courage let alone the ability to effortlessly surf the waves of time, reality and imagination with such grace as this writer does. Pesthouse sees the creation of yet another dreamed up world, eerily familiar, astonishingly real but surprisingly different. We do not need to know how the once great America has plunged into medieval torpor. We need only savour the sublime narrative that describes this uncertain and often cruel future, punctuated by two of Crace's most vibrant characters to date - the indomitable 'Red' Margaret and lumbering, bashful Franklin Lopez. Throughout their struggle for survival and a better tomorrow, theirs becomes a love that proves to be remarkably tender, enduring and real. With Pesthouse, Crace has created his most fascinating vista yet and, as always, he invites you in to fill the tantalizing gaps he leaves behind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly compelling, 2 Oct 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Paperback)
The time is the far future in an America which has broken down into something resembling its incarnation. Machines have fallen into disrepair, cities are rubble, but a surging tide of humanity flows eastwards, towards the ocean and the sailing ships which, they have heard, take them across the ocean to a cleaner and more promising land.

Joining the tide come two young brothers, Jackson and Franklin, but Franklin has somehow hobbled his knee on the journey and has to rest, so it is Jackson alone who goes down into Ferrytown that night. Franklin sits in the cold and rainy forest, hoping his knee will have mended enough for him to join his brother in the morning. Instead, he finds the pesthouse, where Mags, a young woman with the flux has been incarcerated in the hope that she will be able to survive the dangers of the disease without contaminating her relatives and neighbours.

But something terrible happens in Ferrytown that night, an occurrence that throws the sickly Mags and Franklin together so firmly that privations such as near-starvation and robbery and the acquisition of a small baby abandoned by its grandparents, and even a forced separation by slave-taking criminals, cannot alter.

This brilliantly compelling novel reads like a real-life adventure and is told in lucid descriptive prose that conveys the atmosphere of danger, desperation and hope - and the slowly maturing love for each other - in which the two protagonists undertake their journey. It is a moving and very human story with a subtle surprise near the end.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bit of a Damp Squib, 2 May 2007
By 
J. Hamston "Mr Book" (South London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Hardcover)
I bought The Pesthouse having thoroughly enjoyed Quarantine and Being Dead by the same author - but unfortunately I found this a big disappointment.

Everything about it ought to be interesting - the post-apocalyptic setting, the mysterious set-up of the devastated town, the concept of emigration being explored through the reversal of the classic American journey to the West - all perfect subjects for Crace's usual haunting poetry-prose. But everything about it falls flat. The language is deadening where he is usually haunting, and the story goes nowhere while the characters traverse hundreds of miles.

Above all, while I understand the idea to leave the apocalypse enigmatic - we never know what has destroyed America, allowing us to impose whatever crisis of the moment we choose - the fact that the world the characters are leaving doesn't seem so bad (there's still food, and rudimentary technology, and recognisable seasons) makes their reasoning for undergoing all the hardships of the journey quite opaque, and undermines what ought to be a surprising/ironic conclusion.

Furthermore, if the story is meant to allude to the current phenomenon of global mass migration, it's rather insulting to all those who are trying to escape genuinely dire situations - famine, war, climate catastrophe etc - and whose travails seem far harsher than those of Crace's protagonists.

I really wanted to like this - it's not bad, just dull, worthy of a sci-fi hack rather than the visionary author that Crace is capable of being.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written but a Bit Predictable and Aimless, 24 Sep 2007
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Hardcover)
One thing that's key to understand going into this book is that it's all about tone and feeling, and not about details or logic. To a certain extent, the reader just has to accept the world that Crace has presented, and not try to figure it out. This was a big struggle for me as I started it, since most stories (be they books or films) set in a post-apocalyptic world either explain how the world got that way, or use the mystery of the "why/how" as a major plot device. Here, Crace simply posits a greatly depopulated America some two-hundred years in the future (according to an interview I read) which has been thrust back into a kind of early 19th-century existence, only with almost no technology and no written language. There are intimations of a widespread plague, and some kind of permanent crop failures, but just hints, nothing concrete. Elements of this make no sense at all -- especially the loss of technology and writing -- but you just have to go with it.

The book follows two people through this landscape where there is no government or rule of law beyond rudimentary local customs and practices. Franklin is a young man from somewhere out West, who has left the homestead to make his way to the East Coast, where there are apparently ships that take people to a better life in Europe. Margaret is a 30ish spinster whose family, according to custom, kicks her out of their fairly prosperous town when she manifests symptoms of the plague. The two are thrust together by fate, and embark on a perilous quest eastward for a better life. Their journey is filled with the expected trials and tribulations (bandits, betrayal, slavers, separation, physical hardship, etc.), but the story is told in such a way that it is clear the two will end up back together by the end. One flaw in the book is that Franklin is left far too underdeveloped to really engage the reader as a co-protagonist, especially in comparison with Margaret, who is fully realized.

In that sense, the story might be considered too gentle. Yes, bad things happen to Franklin and Margaret, but this version of America isn't quite menacing enough to invest the story with any real suspense over the outcome. Indeed, at times, it's hard to really understand why people want to leave and head for the ships. Large swathes of the country they pass through seem perfectly fine, with farming and animal husbandry. And indeed, this greatly undermines the story's conclusion, which I won't give away, but is not exactly surprising. Ultimately, Crace seems to have written this book as a way of expressing optimism. it's definitely worth reading for his beautiful command of language and unexpected turns of phrase, especially when it comes to physical description, just don't expect it to hold together as a dystopian vision of the future.
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3.0 out of 5 stars weird book. didn't like it, 5 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Paperback)
not a fan of this writer's style and the narrative was weird and confusing. Didn't get it at all. And I'm not stupid. I've read waay more complex books this is just not very well written.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but a bit slow going, 28 Jun 2013
By 
Andy Phillips (Leicestershire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Pesthouse (Paperback)
The book is set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic America some time after an unspecified catastrophe. This is the main problem with the story as it's not very convincing. Life doesn't seem too bad as there seems to be plenty to eat if you're willing to work, and things seem to have reverted to life as it was around 1800. Despite this, people are all making the long journey to the East Coast in order to take sailing ships to a better life across the sea.

For the majority of the book we follow a couple who are brought together by chance and decide to make the journey together. The book is essentially about what happens to them along the way, but also how they fall in love along the way.

It's a very well written book in terms of the language and style, but it is pretty slow going at times. It was quite an enjoyable read, but didn't really live up to the post-apocalyptic setting that I expected from the blurb as it might as well have been set a couple of hundred years ago.
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4.0 out of 5 stars SF or not SF, 13 Dec 2012
By 
Mr. A. Mcinnes "A McInnes" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Hardcover)
America has suffered a disaster, an indeterminate time before, but long enough for 21 century buildings to collapse. We don't know what caused it but, from internal evidence, it may have been bubonic plague.

Again, we don't know if this was released by terrorisim, failure to contain a government laboratory or store, or by land and sea changes which have allowed plague bearing rats to enter the new world. The population seems to be undertaking a patchy and fitful migration eastwards.

The whole concept fits beautifully into the requirements for a science fiction novel, but this is clearly not intended to be science fiction. There is a greater concentration on people and their interactions than there would be in event driven science fiction.

Franklin and his brother Jackson are among the migrants, travelling alone to begin with, but ultimately joining another small group. At Ferrytown, where a major river has to be crossed, we meet Margaret, a plague victim who has been isolated outside the town, in the pest house of the title.

There is an incident in Ferrytown, but I am not going to tell you what it is so that the story won't be spoiled for you. As a result Franklin and Margaret team up and move eastwards over the river.

After a variety of very plausible incidents (I'm not going to tell you about these either) they reach the east coast where they see the ships which are to take them to the promised lands beyond the ocean. These ships look like 18th century sailing ships. So, we are either in a parallel world in which technology stuck at sail, or the civilisation has regressed considerably. We have to wonder about the level of technology in the promised lands.

The ending is likely to surprise you, so I won't reveal it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 'Dreamers do not want advice.', 3 Mar 2010
By 
Grady Harp (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pesthouse (Hardcover)
Jim Crace takes more risks in his stories than most authors writing today. In THE PESTHOUSE he manages to create a love story with seeds in disease, death, futuristic semi-annihilation of America, and a reversal of the concept of immigration. And the primary reason he is able to succeed in his books (BEING DEAD, QUARANTINE, THE DEVIL'S LARDER, GENESIS, etc) is his uncanny gift of flowing poetic prose that can make even the most terrifying and horrendous sights and incidents an exciting literary experience.

The time of this powerful novel is sometime in the future, a time when for some unstated reason the place called America has been reduced to 'junkle', the lands being destroyed by some form of disaster (? nuclear, defoliation, uncontrolled disease?) and all that remains of the once highly technologically advanced country is debris and starving people, all struggling to migrate to the East Coast (reverse pioneerism) to board a ship to Europe for the dreams of a better life. Disease and famine are rampant and one of the victims of the deadly disease 'flux' is Margaret, a plain woman approaching middle age without ever having a lover or caring partner: she is place in The Pesthouse on Butter Hill to die. At the same time two virile brothers, Jackson and Franklin, are migrating to the East Coast, but Franklin suffers a severe knee injury and is forced to let his brother go ahead without him. Franklin seeks refuge in the Pesthouse, finds Margaret near death, and despite the possibility of contagion, nurses her to health. As the completely shaved Margaret shows signs of improvement, the two agree to gather goods from Margaret's nearby hometown Ferrytown and begin the long journey to 'freedom and promise' on the East Coast.

Ferrytown has succumbed to 'flux' and Franklin and Margaret burn the little village in an act of cremation of the inhabitants. Their trek East is disrupted by evil men who separate the two, enslaving Franklin and forcing Margaret to seek refuge with other terrified migrants, one of whom has a newborn grandchild whose father was captured into slavery with Franklin, and Margaret eventually becomes the little girl's guardian. There are extended stretches of incidents: Margaret and baby Bella take refuge in an Ark run by Baptists whose life is one without metals (the sign of the devil, read technological greed) but provide a socialist style living quarters for the winter months; Franklin is chained into slavery on work crews, one of the jobs being to excavate the buried evil metals discarded by the Baptists. Come Spring and by accident Margaret and Franklin reunite and alter their goal of sailing to Europe to opt for turning West to create a life of what America once was.

Some readers may tire of the recent number of books about post-devastation America (Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD paints a similar concept), but Crace is able to make a rather grim novel one of very pure love. He also is able to conjure thoughts that make us look around our earth and visualize what could happen should we elect not to change our current course of global and human abuse. His story also gives a quiet but healthy pause for us to feel the other side of the immigration dilemma: the remaining people are struggling to leave their land of hardship for the Gilead of Europe. And overriding all other aspects of this exceptional novel is Jim Crace's grace with prose. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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