Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367
Being Dead is a novel by Jim Crace that examines life, death, murder, and the nature of meaning. The story begins when a married couple of thirty years, Joseph and Celice, return to the spot where they met. While there, they are robbed and murdered by a migrant thief. For six days they are undiscovered, and their bodies begin to decompose while the story recounts their lives together. Multiple narratives act as meditations on their life and death together. The novel looks backwards from the moment of their deaths to the moment they met, while also looking forward after their deaths as their estranged daughter Syl searches for them.
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In one storyline, Crace describes in detail the process of their decomposition and consumption by crabs and insects, and the description of their murder is similarly brutal. In another narrative, the story of their meeting as students is coupled with tragedy and death. When Joseph and Celice first make love on the dunes in their youth, their home that they had been staying in burns down, and a fellow student is killed in the fire. The narrative after their death follows their daughter Syl, who is not on good terms with her parents, as she notices their disappearance, searches for them, and eventually discovers their remains.
According to Crace, Being Dead explores the themes of “belief, death and the search for transcendence.” It attempts to show a conflict between human and natural forces and desires. The natural world wishes to reclaim their bodies, while the stories of their past as students and their future through their daughter helps to pull them back into the world of the living and its values to those who still live. This conflict and tension between the living and the dead, between human meaning and universal indifference, forms the main focus and intention of the novel. It is ultimately through her parents' death that Syl comes to understand and sympathize with them, as she discovers her father's hand clasping her mother's leg when she comes upon their corpses. Death may be blunt, final, and long, but through meditations on it and its reality, human life can be given a deeper and fuller meaning.