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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

One important theme that Jim Crace explores is the randomness of life. Joseph and Celice anticipated having a romantic vacation, but instead their lives ended. Their double murder seems entirely arbitrary. For Crace, a self-identified atheist, there can be no spiritual reckoning that would explain such a senseless act. On the other side of the equation, however, is the human need to cope with loss, both individually and collectively. Although their daughter has no expectations of finding answers, or, once she learns her parents are lost, comfort to assuage her grief, strangers come together to help her bear the pain. This raises the third, related theme, the universality of loss.

Although the novel is primarily concerned with Joseph’s and Celice’s death and the immediate aftermath, Crace situates this case within a larger perspective on their lives. An earlier death that occurred when they were students, that of a student named Festa, has preyed on Celice ever since. Although they had no part in her death, they all lived in the same house so the randomness of her dying rather than one of them has left an impact.

The couple were killed on a beach in a popular tourist spot, but their bodies were not found for days. Both the brutality of the murder and the gruesome details of their condition make the event a big local news story. Crace introduces the character of Modnazy, a local writer, who invents modern mythologies about Death as a voracious marine animal. The idea of collective processing of grief is expostulated in a fictional ceremony, “quivering,” that is similar to a wake in offering animated celebration of life rather than mourning for loss. Crace describes the interrelated ideas of remorse and resurrection as participants not only react to the dead body but even shake the corpse itself.

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