QUARANTINE opens in the Judean desert in the time of Christ with a woman attending her mortally ill husband, who lies comatose in a tent. Abandoned by the members of her caravan, she prepares a shallow grave in the rocky hills. In the distance she sees four travelers and a straggler heading her way—three men, a woman, and an indeterminate fifth figure. The first four set about climbing the hills searching for caves suitable for days of fasting and prayer, while the fifth, a young Jew named Jesus, stops in the merchant’s tent for a drink of water. There he discovers the dying man and lays his hands on the man’s chest and intones a common greeting for the sick. When the wife returns in a day, she is shocked to discover her husband’s health restored.
The merchant is convinced Jesus has worked a miracle and attempts to lure him from his isolation. Jesus, deprived of nourishment, grows more and more extreme in his visions and dedication to his mission of self-denial. Ultimately, he plunges to his death on the rocks below. The pilgrims bury him and head off for Jericho, where each of the other four abandon the merchant. The novel ends with the man glimpsing a figure emerging from the desert, that may only be a mirage, and pledging himself to preaching Jesus’s extraordinary gifts.
Jim Crace’s novel not only offers a fascinating glimpse into the past, but examines the phenomenon of Christ and the intricacies and dilemmas of spiritual faith. Crace interrogates the notion of Christ’s divinity without ever resolving whether he was god incarnate or an amazing historical figure. The book was a finalist for the Booker Prize and winner of the prestigious Whitbread Award.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCIV, March 1, 1998, p. 1091.
Commonweal. CXXV, May 8, 1998, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 12, 1998, p. 2.
The New Leader. LXXXI, June 1, 1998, p. 15.
New Scientist. CLV, July 5, 1997, p. 47.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, April 12, 1998, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 12, 1998, p. 41.
Time. CLI, April 20, 1998, p. 77.
The Times Literary Supplement. June 13, 1998, p. 25.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, May 3, 1998, p. 5.