Stories from an unknown continent - but it might as well be Africa, or Borneo, or Brazil, or anywhere hot and humid with wilder reaches, largely unknown to the West. The conceit of this book is that the places in the stories, exist in a new continent and the world it purports to describe is meant to be `not ours'. Yet it so clearly is.
The momentary puzzlement is chiefly in why there is a need to invent a new continent, when we quickly grasp that these are old stories. They describe tribes discovered, peculiarities of tradition and ritual; they describe a calligraphic art desecrated by greedy politicians; they describe a young man travelling to America and back to his father's farm in the distant hills, replete with contempt for the old superstitions by which his people live. The stories, in fact, parallel the stories of colonialism, corruption and patronisation with which we, here in this world, are all too familiar.
I am hugely admiring of Jim Crace for his refusal to be bound by literary realism's conventions. I loved Quarantine, Six, The Gift of Stones, Being Dead, The Devil's Larder, and most of all The Pesthouse and Signals of Distress, for me his two masterpieces.
Continent is beautifully written, since Crace cannot write a bad sentence, but this is an early book and much that came after it is superior in story-telling. Any of the novels listed above have in abundance Crace's true gift of compelling literary genius. This one, for me, is only slightly marred by the conceit of its setting.
on 16 November 2000
This book is made up of many smaller stories, of which create powerful images of a new imaginary continent. The vies are related to the third world, and give the natural paradise of this new fantastic place. From what I have read of his previous work, this is a new experiment, and has payed off, because it is one of his best. A must have!!
on 26 September 2010
An American friend put me on to this English writer and I first read, and loved, Arcadia.
Continent, his debut, is different. I don't think it's a novel, for a start. It reads like seven short stories. And I don't see why he had to invent a seventh continent as backdrop. I've never been to Africa or South America but have read enough from both to visualise them as the settings for this book.
So, that apart, it is of course a good read and two of the pieces stand out - On Heat in the middle, with a very fine twist, and Electricity as a good example of prefiguring a final scene. A sense of menace suffuses all the stories; perhaps this disturbance casts the reader into an unknown world, an unknown continent.
Prior to the first of the stories in this book there is a quote. It is from The Histories of Pycletius, and it makes a statement upon 4 topics that are each comprised of 7 parts. Author Jim Crace adds his collection of stories, which are 7 in number, to bring the confines of a pentagon of like numbers to a close. While this is only the second time I have had the pleasure of reading this man's work, I can safely say that every word of his writing is carefully chosen. Whether this book grew from the quote, or was merely a pleasant coincidence, only the Author knows. I doubt it was chance. I think it is another demonstration of the unique writing this man shares with readers.
An imagined 7th continent is revealed in 7 stories. This imagined land might not be named or located for us, however it certainly is amongst those we do know, and regularly interacts with its neighbors. Pycletius states that his 7th landmass has business, and it is that of both trade and superstition. The Continent of Mr. Crace shares the attributes that Pycletius lists, and the darker sides of man. It was almost as though he was going to tell tales of the 7 deadly sins. While some of the stories do fit those themes, to say that others do would be a stretch. If you were to add some of the fables of Aesop, then you would have the stories covered.
These stories do contain some themes that are familiar. What makes them special is Jim Crace's unique way of presenting his variations. A person who jogs for exercise would seem to be completely benign; however Jim Crace demonstrates how this seemingly harmless activity can damage a small town. The concept of tradition is examined, and success when it means money can become insidious, and destructive.
Jim Crace is an author whose work I initially found difficult to engage with. I started with his work, "Quarantine", and now starting here with, "Continent", I hope to read the balance of his work is the sequence he wrote it. The man's work is fascinating, and is well worth any initial hurdles you may experience.