- Save 10% on selected children’s books, compliments of Amazon Family Promotion exclusive for Prime members .
Quarantine Paperback – 2 Apr 2010
|New from||Used from|
Special offers and product promotions
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘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
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. To talk directly to his god. To let his god provide the water and the food. Or let the devil do its work. It would be a test for all three of them."
In a lesser novel, this could become the central concern: "Does Jesus live or die?" (Forty days? No food or water? What do you think?) But Crace deals the story more skilfully, by making Jesus only a little more prominent than the other quarantiners. The true central characters are a travelling salesman, Musa, and his wife Miri. Musa is a tough man and a cruel husband, whose reputation precedes him as he lies dying of fever on the novel's first page. When Miri goes off, with rather too much haste, to dig a grave for Musa, Jesus encounters him and he mysteriously recovers.
Musa's subsequent faith in Jesus - he becomes obsessed with "the little Gally" - is matched only by his faith in himself. The scenery is littered with caves where the quarantiners stay, and Musa wastes no time in making them believe that he owns the land. He extracts rent from the afflicted four with no difficulty. Musa comes to resemble God. He fails to abide by the rules he himself sets. His vengeance is arbitrary. His power over the others rests mostly in reputation, unfulfillable threats and his forbidding appearance: at the same time he has a ridiculous unmanly voice, and his vast weight means that he cannot get up without help from someone else. He is a God, like all the others, who requires his believers for survival. But Musa is a second-rate deity, the Alan Partridge (if you will) of the first century AD: he is torn between abusing those weaker than himself and becoming obsessively worshipful of anyone in whom he detects power. Jesus becomes the object of his fascination, and it is not long into the novel when Musa (and so the others) start thinking of him as a 'healer'. The implication as the novel ends is that from the mouths of these half-dozen wanderers will be born the rudiments of Christianity. The crucial point Crace makes is that whatever Jesus actually does is not relevant... Religion, the novel seems to say, is based on belief not reason. As such it is beyond logical attack or defence.
But the underlying themes are not half the pleasures of "Quarantine". The surface is divertingly beautiful. As ever Crace makes the scene and land his own, and the cruel Judean desert becomes vivid and full of character:- "This was the wind on which to fly away. Its gusts and blusters came looking for him in the cave, bursting in like rowdy boys to shake him from unconsciousness." "The salty scrubland was a lazy and malicious host. Even lizards lifted their legs for fear of touching it too firmly." (This is the language which earlier reviews found "shallow and uninspiring.") Crace also is adept at firm characterisation, and when literary fiction suffers a dearth of really villainous characters it is a relief to have Musa, whose unremitting wrongdoing is perversely admirable.
So broad is Crace's skill, that the reader feels that the whole book could be driven by any one of the factors alone: setting, plot, characters, themes. That he manages to sustain them all at once is (not literally) miraculous. Crace may not think much of religion but he has the gift of the greatest creators of legends: he makes you believe.