National Book Critics Circle, Fiction, 2001
Jim Crace has been called "one of the brightest lights in contemporary British fiction" by The New York Times Book Review. His novels have won a Whitbread Prize, an E.M. Forster Award, the Guardian Fiction Award, the GAP International Prize for Literature, and have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Far-ranging in its imagery, Being Dead is a provocative examination of mortality. A middle-aged couple, Joseph and Celice, are murdered on a remote East Coast sand dune. They are not discovered for six days. Both doctors of zoology, Joseph and Celice would recognize what is happening to their decomposing bodies if they could have watched. They are dead, but they remain part of the living for a while as they become food, shelter, icons, and sources of emotional catharsis. As Jim Crace examines the various facets of these two people's lives and deaths, he creates an extraordinary journey through haunting physical, scientific, and philosophical landscapes. Narrator Virginia Leishman provides the perfect tones for Crace's remarkable, lyrical text.
©1999 Jim Crace; (P)2001 Recorded Books, LLC
"Crace is a brilliant British writer whose novels are always varied in historical setting, voice, theme and writing style, and are surprising in content....This latest, sixth effort, a stunning look at two people at the moment of their deaths, is the riskiest of his works, the most mesmerizing, and the most deeply felt....His finesse in drawing character is matched by the depth of his knowledge and imagination, and the honesty of his bleak vision." (Publishers Weekly)
"It's not clear to me why Jim Crace isn't world famous. Few novels are as unsparing as this one in presenting the ephemerality of love given the implacability of death, and few are as moving in depicting the undiminished achievement love nevertheless represents." (The New York Times Book Review)
"A brilliant, astonishing novel." (The Times [London])
Perhaps, having had a child die, I have a greater interest in contemplating death than the average listener. I found the book to be magical and plan to listen to it again. There is no problem with the narrator that I perceived. The author has a gift for language that supersedes any in my recollection.
If you are adventurous in the truest sense (not in the car chase – building explosion way), give this a listen.
A story like none you've ever heard, I'd bet. I can't say much without spoiling it.
Just trust that you will hear phrases turned with such grace and skill that you will be left wanting at the end and whatever book you read next will suffer because of it.
"Being Dead" is not a good book; it is art looking at being and being looking at art. Defying genre, its peculiar wierdness explodes--not the art of the novelist--but the genius of thought.
It's hard to imagine this book finding a readership based on any casual description. A middle-aged, unremarkable couple are murdered on a beach and begin the process of being dead. The author provides uncompromising description of six days of it. We get a novel's worth of backstory, but the backstory is mere background, a funeral elegy that doesn't distract us from the biology of death, nor elevate us--nor insult us.
The book is not a searing affirmation of life. It isn't really a meditation on mortality. It is a book about being and nonbeing. It is philosophy at its best but also not at all. Great books change the game rules and make you rethink what a book is, and what being is and isn't.
The prose, is sublime. Yet every word of description possesses plodding ordinariness. To call the prose poetic can only suggest the strange schema the writing conjures.
Never once sentimental, hopeful, inspiring, encouraging, it never offers an alternative to being dead. Its compulsive hopelessness is not a loss or lack of hope, but a journey past the merely describable with such a lack of judgementalness that it might well be the phone book or the Heart Sutra.
Socrates, in Plato's Republic, describes the attraciton of corpses in a pile outside the city walls, and how he knows it is bad for him to go look but still succumbs. You suspect that perhaps this morbid attraction is what will give the book momentum. No, it is, perhaps, the most peculiar piece of nature writing attempted.
Like all great books, it is about itself. You cannot sum it.
I've somehow changed, as if some part of me has come and gone. Not knowing how or why, I know I will revisit the book several times before I begin to be dead. Great books enlarge.
I know I shall read (listen to) Being Dead again and again for its language, its beach landscape interpolated with scenes from the main characters' lives and their shared histories, its study of the physical decomposition of two people (yet each had achieved a kind of peace with him/herself in life), for the author's power to focus on time, a time, on objects, on two people, and for the understated ontological and biological asking and answering, asking and answering that is a seamless part of the whole.
Too, I was lucky enough to read Being Dead right after reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy...each book complementing the other in so many unexpected ways.
Having read the other reviews I am struck that nobody has mentioned an aspect that I found most intriguing... the book flows backwards. Each chapter ends with you wondering how did we get 'here'. The next chapter answers.
The writing verges on poetry. The characters are beautifully developed in a way that makes the ordinary special. This is not a book about plot, in the common sense, but rather a book with a plot in a much larger sense - for all things move forward and all things move back infinitely.
A very interesting thought experiment, writing experiment, mediation on death, life and character.
This book was a raft of contradictions for me.
It was gorgeously written, and nicely narrated. Yet, it took me longer than usual to get through it (I kept falling asleep.) It is the world's strangest bedtime story. It is an amazing contemplation on mortality, connection to humanity, and connection to nature. It's lovely, horrifying, engrossing, and boring all at the same time.
I highly recommend it to anyone who isn't looking for a standard listen, a predictable story, an average plot. There isn't much plot here (yet it's the world's biggest plot). People who enjoy a story that isn't the ordinary will like this. Others... well, you see their one-star reviews.
I agree with most of the others here. This was a very strange book. It is not a novel with a plot, kind of goes backward and is more prose than a straight story. However, I think it took a lot of talent to put it together the way it was, so I gave it 3 stars. If you tend to think "Outside the Box" you should enjoy this.
I'm forcing myself not to abandon this audio book. Did no one listen to this after it was recorded? I can't tell you whether or not the book is good because I am desperately trying not to let the reader get to me. Not only does she inhale loudly through her nostrils after each sentence, but she also sounds very... Well, I suppose "wet" is the word. She make a sound that is nearly a slurp of saliva with every pause. Had I known this, I would not have purchased this book.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
Ahhhh…what a wonderful listen. A beautiful, memorable, and unique story that is both surprising and obvious. The characters are real, unremarkable, people viewed unromantically, but not dryly or scientifically. Perhaps calling this a meditation is the best I can do. The story is a meditation on our life and our death as it is actually exists. I loved this book. It is worth more than one listen.
...it's a bit of a snoozer. The premise is good, but by the end I just wanted it to be over. I was a bit tired of hearing about the ordinary characters and the scientific details of their deaths.
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