Quarantine Paperback – 2 Apr 2010
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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
‘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
Top customer reviews
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. Jesus, like the other pilgrims, is human here, a man rooted in the real world of his day and subject to the same urges as other men. He is different from them, however, in his determination not to yield to privation as he seeks union with God through his visions and hallucinations.
This is not a book that will appeal to everyone. Though Crace's purpose is not to debunk, he does challenge our understanding of what happened between the forty days in the wilderness and the resurrection and its significance. The language is stunning, the characters are fascinating, the imagery is unique, and the power of nature is overwhelming--but one's enjoyment of the book ultimately depends on one's willingness to consider alternative interpretations of some of the basic tenets of Christianity. Mary Whipple
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