Quarantine: Picador Classic Paperback – 18 Jun 2015
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘Dazzling, gritty brilliance. This is a novel of scorching distinction’ Sunday Times
‘Stunning. A writer of hallucinatory skill’ John Updike
‘One of the finest novels I’ve read in years’ The Times
‘Absolutely compelling’ Observer
‘Completely captivating’ Literary Review
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Sometimes, when reading the Bible, one is tempted to ask: how would that work, then? What would that actually have looked like? There are few clues in the Bible; there is almost no characterisation; events are set out in a very skeletal fashion and there is little sense of what make people tick. So, when Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days, what did that actually mean?
In Quarantine, it seems that this 40 days in the wilderness is a fairly common rite of passage or penance. There is a conveyor belt of pilgrims ready to take the place of their predecessors, living in caves and living on whatever small creatures come their way. This particular batch of pilgrims have different motives for coming to the desert: variously they hope for fertility, cure from illness or spiritual enlightenment. Oh, and one of them was Jesus.
The pilgrims have the dubious fortune to run into a merchant, Musa, who had fallen sick and was left for dead by his caravan as they headed on to Jericho. Following a visit from Jesus, and to the disappointment of his long-suffering wife, Musa recovers. Musa then provides much of the narrative drive as he seeks to exploit the pilgrims and, in particular, to forge a link with Jesus that might enable them both to become very rich.
Quarantine differs from the Biblical story in its inclusion of other people; and these other people form a human representation of temptation. Jesus is frail, uncertain, desperate. He has a strong faith but he doesn’t know where it comes from. He seems always to have been a bit of a square peg in a round hole, and he hopes his time in the desert will provide answers.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Awful book! In my opinion the author has just used the `theme` of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days to try to get people to purchase a copy. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
Fascinating and beautifully written. I loved the carefully researched historical details.Published 9 months ago by KimB
Well written interesting story . I liked the way he developed the characters and took a well known bible story and wove it into the lives of his characters. Read morePublished 13 months ago by ruth billingham
Jim Crace is certainly a powerful writer but some readers might find his intensity a bit hard going. Read morePublished 22 months ago by John Fitzpatrick