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Stodgy and directionless
on 28 March 2014
It is very difficult to read "The Pesthouse" without drawing comparisons with Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" - either the book or the film version. McCarthy's spare, haunting approach to an American apocalypse and nightmare vision of the future almost sets the template for this type of fiction, and if you have read that first and then come to Jim Crace's take on things, you may find The Pesthouse wanting for something.
Crace constructs his vision of a post-apocalyptic America with typical precision and skilled use of language. It is easy to imagine the ravaged landscape, but the violence of McCarthy's vision is strangely missing, and as a result The Pesthouse seems to lack a purpose, other than to sketch out a landscape of destruction in some depth.
As with "The Road", the characters here are all heading towards the coast and the potential of ships to a better life, but somewhere along the way The Pesthouse seems to lose direction, and the story gets bogged down in some essentially uninteresting characters. Even the finest prose can become hard work if it doesn't drive a compelling story, and Crace almost gets lost in his own nightmarish world before dragging out a pretty unconvincing conclusion.
Much like the world Crace has created here, the book is hard going, and hard to fathom and ultimately unrewarding.