Jim Crace Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jim Crace 1946-

English novelist and short story writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Crace's career through 2001.

Acclaimed as one of the most original voices in contemporary British literature, Crace writes vividly imagined stories that explore themes of community and change. Taking inspiration from magic realist writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Crace has eschewed trends in British literature toward realistic social commentary, choosing instead to set his stories either in completely imaginary worlds or in highly fictionalized renderings of historical periods, such as Stone Age Britain in The Gift of Stones (1988) and biblical Jerusalem in Quarantine (1997). Crace peoples his richly textured tales with well-defined groups of characters; in some cases each character represents a different culture, in others each represents a different strata of the same culture. The groups Crace depicts—whether entire societies or loosely formed conglomerations—are typically on the brink of watershed events, such as irrevocable economic, technological, and political changes in his early novels, or deeply personal crises and metamorphoses in later works. Though Crace's settings are often fanciful, his fiction examines serious cultural and political issues and retains a genuine social relevance.

Biographical Information

Crace was born in Lemsford, England, to Charles and Edith Crace. Crace's father was a self-educated laborer and avowed socialist and atheist who believed that the arts belonged as much to the working class as to the upper class. Crace credits his father with inspiring his own strong work ethic, love of books, and left-wing political views. Crace attended the Birmingham College of Commerce (now the University of Central England), which, at the time, offered external degrees from the University of London. After earning a bachelor's degree with honors from the University of London in 1968, Crace joined the Voluntary Services Overseas program, the British equivalent of the U.S. Peace Corps. For the next two years, Crace wrote and produced programs for Sudanese Educational Television in Khartoum, and then taught English to secondary school students in Botswana. The impact of this cross-cultural experience would later be reflected in Crace's fiction. After returning to England, Crace began a career in journalism, soon taking foreign assignments for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. In the early 1970s, Crace met Pamela Ann Turton, an English teacher, whom he married in January 1975. The couple settled in Birmingham, where they had two children. Around the time of his marriage, Crace began writing short stories, publishing three in the literary magazine New Review. He continued to work as a journalist while gradually building a solid critical reputation as a fiction writer and, in the mid-1980s, signed a book contract. His debut book, Continent (1986), was well received and won several British literary awards, including the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the David Higham Prize for fiction, and an award from the Arts Council of Britain. At that point, Crace began writing fiction full-time and, two years later, published The Gift of Stones, which won the GAP International Award for Literature. His subsequent publications also won several awards: Quarantine received the Whitbread Novel of the Year award in 1997 and was short-listed for the Booker Prize; Being Dead (1999) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel of the Year award. Throughout his career as a novelist, Crace has retained the political fervor of his youth, taking active roles in numerous liberal causes, including the anti-apartheid and nuclear disarmament movements. He has also served on various arts committees and panels, and has continued to write occasional nonfiction pieces for journals such as the Sunday Times Magazine, the Guardian, and Conde Nast Traveller.

Major Works

In terms of structure, tone, and particularly setting, each of Crace's books is markedly different from his other works. Yet, despite their contrasting literary styles, each work typically centers around a meditation on change, whether technological, political, personal, or natural. Continent is set on an imaginary third-world landmass, inhabited by a culture completely of Crace's own invention. This fictional continent is a technologically undeveloped region, where ancient customs are still largely intact. In the book—which some classify as a novel and others classify as a short story collection—Crace presents seven loosely interrelated stories, each depicting the impact of a particular element of Western culture or technology on the continent's inhabitants. The tone ranges from the ironic—a scribe is reduced to selling forgeries of his own work to meet demands of antiquities collectors—to the tragic—a man cools his house with an electric airplane propeller with gruesome results. Though the stories are sometimes narrated by the characters as they experience changes, Crace resists passing judgment on their situations, preferring to allow the characters and events to speak for themselves. In The Gift of Stones, Crace focuses on the cultural upheaval wrought by a single technological innovation—the introduction of bronze. Set at the end of the Stone Age, the novel features two narrators, a one-armed father and his stepdaughter, both storytellers who are members of a tribe that builds and sells stone tools. The surrounding tribes in the area depend on the insular stone-workers and keep them safe from marauders. However, as bronze begins to emerge as a preferred material for tools, the stone-workers, with their technology rendered obsolete, are severely jeopardized. In the end, only the father, who has some knowledge of the outside world, is equipped to help the stone-workers adapt, though he knows that as the stone-worker culture vanishes so will the need for his stories. Crace's next novel, Arcadia (1991), is more detached and its structure more schematic. Likewise, the novel's driving cultural change comes not as the result of evolution, but rather by the decree of an individual. Set in the present in a nameless European city, the novel follows Victor, a bitter eighty-nine-year-old millionaire who wishes to replace the old Soap Market—the city's vital but ramshackle economic heart—with Arcadia, a sterile shopping mall of his own devising. Victor's mall is a commercial success, but at the expense of the community of colorful characters who used to work at the old Soap Market. Eventually, the spiritual descendants of the displaced merchants develop an underground market that rivals Victor's. Arcadia features a deliberately complex structure, including many flashbacks and an omniscient central narrator, all devices that facilitate the exploration of equally complex themes surrounding economic change and growth. In contrast, Signals of Distress (1995) is a more light-hearted novel in which Crace relates a tragicomic tale of a community in upheaval. Set in 1836, the story unwinds over the period of weeks following the wreck of an American sailing ship near a poverty-stricken English port. The large cast of characters includes members of the American crew, a slave who cooks for them, a liberal-minded envoy from a soap factory, and a young woman who makes a meager living harvesting kelp. Each character has his or her own interests, but each is also the voice of a group: the New World, the old world, capitalists, workers, slaves, or free persons. As the story opens, the interests of these disparate groups are poised in delicate balance, which by the end is completely upset. Crace's next novel, Quarantine, is set in the biblical era and follows five troubled souls who have gathered at a spot in the Judean desert for forty days of purifying fasting and meditation. Among this group is Jesus—portrayed as a confused, religiously obsessed teenager—who quickly heals a wounded merchant who has taken refuge at the meditation ground. The merchant, Crace's representation of the devil, spends the rest of the forty days tormenting the pilgrims. In the end, most of the pilgrims are healed, seemingly by faith in Jesus's divinity, and the merchant is busy plotting to make a profit by selling tales of Jesus's works. Though Crace once again focuses on a group at the point of transition, the emphasis in Quarantine is on the personal nature of transformation rather than the political or economic mechanisms of change. Being Dead opens with the murder of a married couple on a beach, an event from which Crace runs three narrative threads: a graphic and poetic description of their decomposition; a flashback that recounts their lives together; and a flash-forward describing the effect that their deaths have on their daughter. Crace confronts the transition from life to death with vivid depictions of physical decay and a rigorous investigation of the types of “meaning” individual lives have in an indifferent universe. The Devil's Larder (2001) presents a series of sixty-four episodic stories about food—its preparation, consumption, defilement, and lethality—in which Crace explores the far reaches of human desire and curiosity.

Critical Reception

Despite beginning his literary career fairly late in life, and having produced a relatively small body of work, Crace has been widely regarded as a fine prose writer worthy of serious critical attention. He is recognized for both the philosophical and political depth of his subject matter and for the technical sophistication of his literary style. Much of the critical debate surrounding Crace's work has focused on his style, particularly his prose technique and the narrative structures he employs. Several reviewers have described his writing as poetic. Crace often writes in two-beat iambs, a device that many critics have described as having an enchanting and hypnotic effect. Critics have found his use of iambs particularly effective in The Gift of Stones, in which Crace uses the poetic rhythms only during the father's public speeches, thus distinguishing them from the terse monosyllabic prose he uses in the rest of the book. In his other works, however, some critics have found Crace's iambs to be distracting, noting that his self-consciously stylized prose occasionally serves only to trivialize the seriousness of his subject matter. Critical opinion has been similarly divided on the subject of Crace's narrative techniques. Reviewers have agreed that Crace is a novelist of ideas and that his plots are always at the service of his dominant themes. Some commentators have faulted Crace for using narrative contrivances—such as omniscient narrators, flashbacks and flash-forwards, and overly neat symmetries—while other critics have described Crace's use of such devices as masterful. The complexly ordered plot of Being Dead, for instance, served his lyrical meditations on life and death to such an effective degree that some reviewers have ranked it as one of his most moving novels. However, Crace's use of similar devices elsewhere, particularly in Arcadia, has prompted critics to label him as a distant, clinical, and manipulative author. Overall, critical response to Crace's body of work has been marked by respect for his stylistic imagination, with some commentators having rather marked reservations about his tendency to let his technical prowess dominate his work.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Continent (short stories) 1986

The Gift of Stones (novel) 1988

Arcadia (novel) 1991

Signals of Distress (novel) 1995

The Slow Digestions of the Night (novella) 1995

Quarantine (novel) 1997

Being Dead (novel) 1999

The Devil's Larder (short stories) 2001

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John Blades (review date 5 April 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Blades, John. “Blurbists Credited with Discovery of Continent.Chicago Tribune Books (5 April 1987): 3.

[In the following review, Blades offers a positive assessment of Continent.]

As any critic will tell you, some of today's most imaginative fiction writing appears not in books but on book jackets. Because these testimonials (aka blurbs) come from the author's friends and fellow writers, who may just happen to share a publisher, agent or accountant, they usually have all the credibility of nutrition ratings on cereal boxes. But some blurbs prove too seductive to ignore.

When a book arrives with endorsements from writers such as...

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Brian Stonehill (review date 12 April 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stonehill, Brian. Review of Continent, by Jim Crace. Los Angeles Times Book Review (12 April 1987): 4.

[In the following review, Stonehill offers a positive assessment of Continent.]

Here are seven related short stories that arrive on our shores already wreathed in praise. Jim Crace's Continent won England's Whitbread Prize for the best first “novel” of 1986, and the David Higham Prize for the year's best first work of fiction. Continent seems more strangely native to our New World, though, than to the Old.

The stories take place, for one thing, in an exotic locale that seems to be Latin American, although the fanciful...

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George Kearns (review date autumn 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kearns, George. “Post-Colonial Fiction: Our Custom is Different.” Hudson Review 40, no. 3 (autumn 1987): 487–94.

[In the following excerpt, Kearns offers a positive assessment of Continent, though objects to its dubious classification as a novel.]

The empire strikes back. We hear of a threatening entity, the “Pacific rim,” whose principal market we have become. The Japanese have rescued the Treasury from embarrassment. What will it be like, what is it like, to be a “debtor nation”? Dour heads on television warn that in our own immense way we are following Britain toward an age of humbled decline. May it be genteel, so gradual that we hardly...

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Richard Deveson (review date 2–8 September 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Deveson, Richard. “The Prehistoric Future.” Times Literary Supplement (2–8 September 1988): 952.

[In the following review, Deveson offers a generally positive assessment of The Gift of Stones, comparing the novel to William Golding's The Inheritors.]

How did Stone Age people speak, how did they tell stories, and—if, like Jim Crace, you are a writer independent-minded enough to set a novel in the Stone Age—should you try to imitate them? In The Inheritors, William Golding's narrative idiom was surprisingly simple, enabling his reconstruction of a Neanderthal thought-world to seem correspondingly far-reaching and credible. On the face of...

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Mark Kamine (review date 20 March 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kamine, Mark. “A Prehistoric Tale.” New Leader (20 March 1989): 20–21.

[In the following review, Kamine offers a positive assessment of The Gift of Stones.]

Jim Crace has written a short novel about growing up in a prehistoric village—a Stone Age Bildungsroman. This is less odd than it sounds given the settings of the stories in his first book, an award-winner in his native England, entitled Continent. Equal parts mock anthropology, V. S. Naipaul and Jorge Luis Borges, it pitted primitive societies against modern ones with good ironic effect.

The Gift of Stones drops the modern as well as most of the irony. While...

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Perry Glasser (review date 16 April 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Glasser, Perry. “A Stone Age Storyteller Speaks from the Dawn of Narrative Art.” Chicago Tribune Books (16 April 1989): 6.

[In the following review, Glasser offers a positive assessment of The Gift of Stones.]

If you share Jim Crace's concerns for language and ideas, The Gift of Stones will seem rich broth. This novel is wonderfully lucid, often musical and always thought-provoking.

In a pre-metal age, in a village by the sea, the members of a community work flint. They are impervious to attack from the horsemen who need their weapons; they prosper because merchants prize their tools for trade. When a young boy loses half his arm to...

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Lowry Pei (review date August 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pei, Lowry. Review of The Gift of Stones, by Jim Crace. Boston Review 14, no. 4 (August 1989): 23–24.

[In the following review, Pei offers a negative assessment of The Gift of Stones.]

Jim Crace's first book, Continent, was a group of stories taking place in the present on a fictitious continent at the world's margin; his present book, The Gift of Stones, takes place on a nameless coast on the outskirts of time—at the juncture between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. The subject of Continent was the Third World, oppression, colonialism—extreme situations, tragic and comic turns; the subject of The Gift of Stones is...

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Gary Krist (review date winter 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Krist, Gary. “Serendipity.” Hudson Review 42, no. 4 (winter 1990): 659–66.

[In the following excerpt, Krist offers a positive assessment of The Gift of Stones.]

I first came upon the word “serendipitous” serendipitously. I was looking up the spelling of “sequoia” in my dictionary—for a junior high school paper, if I remember correctly—and, well, I got distracted. The words in sequoia's vicinity were fascinating: Seraglio, the place in a Mohammedan palace where the wives and concubines are secluded. Serein, a very fine rain falling from a clear sky after sunset. And serendipitous, defined as good, beneficial, favorable; come upon by accident;...

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Adam Mars-Jones (review date 13 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mars-Jones, Adam. “Hurrying Back to Nature.” Times Literary Supplement (13 March 1992): 22.

[In the following review, Mars-Jones offers a positive assessment of Arcadia.]

Joseph, the youngest of the three main characters in Jim Crace's fascinating new novel [Arcadia], a country boy newly arrived in the metropolis, sees in his new surroundings the opposite of a logic of place:

Some fool, in fact, had built this city on the worst of sites. Where was the fish-stocked estuary, the river bridge, the sheltered harbour, the pass between two hills, the natural crossroads in the land where ancient settlements were meant to...

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Geoff Dyer (review date 20 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dyer, Geoff. “Word Salad.” New Statesman & Society (20 March 1992): 45.

[In the following review of Arcadia, Dyer cites shortcomings in the novel's linguistic excesses and corresponding lack of character development.]

Arcadia is the story of a city or, more precisely, the story of the market at the heart of the city, its produce and traders. The market is controlled by Victor who began life as a waif, surviving on kindness, guile and stall-holders' unwanted waste. Now a lonely 80-year-old millionaire, he rarely leaves the air-conditioned sanctuary of Big Vic, the office block where he plans to transform the teeming bustle of the market...

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Francis King (review date 21 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: King, Francis. “Nostalgia for the Mud.” Spectator (21 March 1992): 34.

[In the following review, King offers a positive assessment of Arcadia.]

Jim Crace's first novel, Continent—recipient of the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the David Higham Prize, the Chianti-Ruffino/Antico Fattore Prize—was set in an imaginary country. Arcadia, his third novel, is set in an imaginary city, an amalgam, as it were, of Birmingham, Lyons and Milan.

From his eyrie, a private roof garden on the 28th floor of the headquarters of his business empire, 80-year-old Vic gazes down on this city, which, a remote yet...

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Richard Eder (review date 4 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “The Phantom of the Market.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (4 October 1992): 3, 12.

[In the following review, Eder offers a positive assessment of Arcadia.]

The true characters in the fiction of the British writer Jim Crace are not individuals but communities. In the superb and haunting The Gift of Stones, it was a late Stone Age clan of weapons-makers, uprooted and set to wandering by the advent of Bronze Age technology. In Arcadia, it is the barrow men and stall-holders of a fruit-and-vegetable market dating back to medieval times, who are displaced by the construction of a great glass arcade adorned with foliage and...

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Joseph Olshan (review date 15 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Olshan, Joseph. “Meet a Despotic Octogenarian and His Utopian Marketplace.” Chicago Tribune Books (15 November 1992): 3.

[In the following review, Olshan offers a positive assessment of Arcadia.]

Joining the literature of Utopia is this new entry from novelist Jim Crace, author of The Gift of Stones. Arcadia is a book that conjures up a marketplace so perfect that it dares to offer the experience of shopping as spiritual alternative:

Four spectacular glass ovals which seemed both like cakes and the domes of viscous mosques. … Nine tapering barrel-vaulted aisles—space-framed in wood and steel,...

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Robert M. Adams (review date 3 December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Adams, Robert M. “Cornering the Market.” New York Review of Books (3 December 1992): 14–16.

[In the following excerpt, Adams provides an overview of Continent and The Gift of Stones and offers a favorable review of Arcadia.]

Jim Crace is a British writer who has just published his third work of fiction without having made much impression in his first two. This seems likely to change soon. Born in London in 1946 but resident in Birmingham, Crace is apparently tied to no literary group of academic or political influence. Although our real business here is with his third work of fiction, Arcadia, a preliminary account of the first two,...

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Edward T. Wheeler (review date 18 June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wheeler, Edward T. “Modern Gardening.” Commonweal (18 June 1993): 26–27.

[In the following review of Arcadia, Wheeler praises Crace's prose style and powers of imagination, but finds technical flaws in the novel's omniscient narrator and inadequate conclusion.]

Jim Crace is of the same generation of British novelists as Martin Amis and Peter Ackroyd; and like them he is a chronicler of the city. Resemblances end quickly after that: where Amis (London Fields) is apocalyptic in theme and “postmodern” in form, Crace is generally affirmative and traditional. Unlike Ackroyd whose English Music seeks to tie London to the eternal English...

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T. J. Binyon (review date 2 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Binyon, T. J. “All Hands on Deck.” Times Literary Supplement (2 September 1994): 12.

[In the following review, Binyon offers a positive assessment of Signals of Distress.]

During a storm in November 1836 an American barque, the Belle of Wilmington, is driven on to a sandbank near Wherrytown, in the west of England. The Canadian cattle which are its cargo—to be replaced, on the return voyage, by emigrants to Canada—swim to the shore. Later, the crew are rescued by fishermen; they take up residence in Wherrytown's one inn, while their vessel is salvaged and repaired. Another resident of the inn is Aymer Smith, who has just arrived on a steam-packet, the...

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Paula Burnett (review date 2 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Burnett, Paula. “Ocean Views.” New Statesman & Society (2 September 1994): 36–37.

[In the following excerpt, Burnett offers a negative assessment of Signals of Distress.]

Two years on from the 1492 quincentenary, the Euro-American past still haunts British minds. Not only has the infant 23rd in line for the throne improbably been named Columbus, but London publishing has delivered four new novels addressing the shared transatlantic experience. Three of them have voyages at their heart. All revisit the guilt and suffering of the past, and all hold up to the light the racial encounters and moral conflicts of Atlantic history. …


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Tim Parks (review date 3 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Parks, Tim. “On the Rocks.” Spectator (3 September 1994): 36–37.

[In the following review, Parks offers a negative assessment of Signals of Distress.]

Literary novelists seem obsessed with history these days—Byatt, Ackroyd, Amis, Phillips, McEwan, Ondaatje, De Bernières—so many books about the last century, the last war. No doubt somebody is studying the phenomenon. Inevitably the blurbs tell us that the themes are as pertinent today as they have ever been. In the case of Crace's Signals of Distress this means the vexed question of our attitude to other people's poverty, the gap between holding the ‘right’ views and doing the ‘right’...

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Michele Field (essay date 2 October 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Field, Michele. “Jim Crace: Moral Activist, Conservative Romantic.” Publishers Weekly (2 October 1995): 49–50.

[In the following essay, Field provides an overview of Crace's literary career and publishing history, and reports Crace's comments on his life, editorial associations, and writings.]

One wonders how a writer as successful as Jim Crace can remain so boy-next-doorish. He has almost made an art of talking himself down, making an extraordinarily levelheaded appraisal of his work while remaining flushed with enthusiasm for everything he has written and wants to write. Signals of Distress is his fourth novel. He published his first nine years...

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James Hamilton-Paterson (review date 6 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hamilton-Paterson, James. “Voyages Out.” New Republic (6 May 1996): 38–41.

[In the following review, Hamilton-Peterson provides a generally favorable assessment of Signals of Distress, citing shortcomings in the novel's flat characters and lack of emotional energy.]

I must come clean. I have read only two of this much-praised writer's novels: his first, Continent, published in 1986 and Signals of Distress, his latest. I am not equipped to provide one of those overviews expected of critics when they deal with a writer who has a “track record.” That awful expression points up the idiocy of equating a writer with an athlete. Not only...

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Eric Korn (review date 13 June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Korn, Eric. “The Galilean.” Times Literary Supplement (13 June 1997): 25.

[In the following review, Korn offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

Roughing it in Ruristan is a fine thing, but one of the keenest pleasures of dependent travel is the trusting sense of infantile repose that comes from a guide (or guidebook), whose first words give assurance that you are going to be shown the most important and impressive sites in suitable logical order, and with adequate commentary; that you will not be mislaid, delayed, deluded, hijacked, persecuted by thirst or heat or postcard-sellers; and that there will be cold drinks and comfort at the end.


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Tobias Jones (review date 14 June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jones, Tobias. “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness.” Spectator (14 June 1997): 39–40.

[In the following review, Jones offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

It's hard to imagine who will dislike Jim Crace's startling, beguiling novel more: atheists who resent his thick symbolism and deific narration, or Christians offended by his arm's-length, cynical rendering of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness, his ‘quarantine.’ Using a simple plot and the barest characterisation, it is a primitive and jocular book of big themes: about suspect saviours, the possible pointlessness of spirituality, and so the constant nag of evil.


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Robert Irwin (review date 3 July 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Irwin, Robert. “Hiveward-Winging.” London Review of Books (3 July 1997): 21.

[In the following review of Quarantine, Irwin commends Crace's literary skill and ingenuous imagination, but finds faults in the novel's self-contained and enigmatic significance.]

‘I'll just explain the central situation. Six people are trapped in a lift between two floors of a skyscraper—a musician, a surgeon, a char-woman, a conjuror and his female assistant, and a hunchback carrying a small suitcase.’

‘Containing some sandwiches, I hope,’ chuckled the local curate. ‘They're bound to get...

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Richard Eder (review date 12 April 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Cavedweller.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (12 April 1998): 2.

[In the following review, Eder offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

A cool metaphysician, the British writer Jim Crace sets his novels in a prehistoric past (The Gift of Stones) or hypothetical future (Arcadia) to test out the pulse of our present-day spirits.

This gives him the equivalent of a dust-free laboratory, free of the distractions, fads and obsessions of the world around us. Uncrowded and perhaps excessively bare, it allows space for the large sorts of inquiry that our contemporary minds might find uncomfortable in a contemporary...

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Bruce Bawer (review date 3 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bawer, Bruce. “Temptation in the Wilderness.” Washington Post Book World (3 May 1998): 5.

[In the following review, Bawer offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

Though the biblical account of Jesus's 40 days in the desert and his temptation there by the devil takes up only a few lines in the gospels, the story—which follows his baptism and precedes his public ministry—has always been seen as pivotal. Now, in the novel Quarantine, the English writer Jim Crace asks the question: If Jesus did in fact go into the desert after his baptism, what might really have happened there?

In this dry, precise, often hypnotic...

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Luke Timothy Johnson (review date 8 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Johnson, Luke Timothy. “Jesus in the Desert.” Commonweal (8 May 1998): 18–19.

[In the following review, Johnson offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

Jim Crace has pulled off the literary equivalent of a perfect triple-triple jump in ice-skating. He has written a novel that has Jesus as its main character yet avoids reminding the reader of the Bible. Unlike all those lives of Jesus and historical Jesus reconstructions that end up making Jesus seem like a cardboard figure compared to the compelling and mysterious portrayals of him in the Gospels, [Quarantine] draws the reader into an imaginative rendering that is so daring, so compelling, and...

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Brooke Allen (review date 1–15 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Allen, Brooke. “Jesus Lives.” New Leader (1–15 June 1998): 15–16.

[In the following review, Allen offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

One hundred and thirty years after T. H. Huxley coined the term “agnosticism” in an attempt to reconcile religious feeling with Charles Darwin's new theories, the dispute between science and religion is very much alive. In American schools—70 years after the Scopes trial in Tennessee—Christian groups still challenge the teaching of evolution. On the opposing side, hard-core scientific rationalists argue that geological evidence of the earth's age proves the Bible is fiction, and that religious faith is...

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Christian Century (review date 10 March 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Quarantine, by Jim Crace. Christian Century (10 March 1999): 292.

[In the following review, the critic offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

This novel about Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness—and the six people who spend more than a month in close proximity to him—is both fascinating and puzzling. [Quarantine] is fascinating because Crace is a wonderful writer whose characters and setting draw one in and remain in one's mind. It is puzzling because his portrait of Jesus and of people's response to Jesus is so ambivalent—a portrait drawn by an agnostic who poses profound questions and gives no answers. Like four other...

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Kenneth Arnold (review date spring 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Arnold, Kenneth. “The Emptiness Is All.” Cross Currents 49, no. 1 (spring 1999): 140–43.

[In the following excerpt, Arnold offers a positive assessment of Quarantine.]

The desire for solitude seems to be strong in us, even though we humans are gregarious. There are many reasons to want to be alone; tradition suggests that seeking the divine is one of the strongest ones. Being alone is not enough, however. The word solitude brings with it a stronger meaning—isolation, separation, empty spaces. Real solitude, it seems, is to be found in deserts, where God (and the devil) are always waiting. Both of these books, one nonfiction and one fiction, fiercely...

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Phil Baker (review date 17 September 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Baker, Phil. “Going Gracefully.” Times Literary Supplement (17 September 1999): 22.

[In the following review of Being Dead, Baker commends Crace's ambitious project, but concludes that the novel's macabre anti-humanism and “playful fabulation” fail to match the book's solemn subject.]

Like a schoolboy chemist, Jim Crace is keen on stinks. Quarantine (1997) gave us “the devil's eggy dinner” on a dying man's breath, and his new book ferments the “pungent details of mortality,” until they make policemen cough and gag. Being Dead traces the decomposition of two middle-aged science teachers after they have been murdered on a...

(The entire section is 1015 words.)

Phil Whitaker (review date 20 September 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Whitaker, Phil. “The Absolute End.” New Statesman (20 September 1999): 57-58.

[In the following review, Whitaker offers a positive assessment of Being Dead.]

Jim Crace's sixth novel begins with the two central characters lying murdered on an isolated beach. Joseph and Celice, both zoologists, had met as postgraduates on a field trip to Baritone Bay, their relationship being consummated among its dunes. When, after three decades of marriage, they discover that the area is about to be bulldozed to build luxury houses and a marina, the idea of a nostalgic return takes hold. Without informing anyone of their destination, they set off. It is to be their last...

(The entire section is 829 words.)

Miranda France (review date 2 October 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: France, Miranda. “Supping Full on Horrors.” Spectator (2 October 1999): 46.

[In the following review, France offers a positive assessment of Being Dead, but notes that the novel's virtuosity and intellectual challenge lacks emotional intensity.]

Jim Crace's new novel features two zoologists who are, literally, consumed by their subject. Celice and Joseph, a married couple in their fifties, are dead. [Being Dead] discovers them shortly after their murder among sand dunes and records their deterioration over six days, until the bodies are discovered by police. By then only fragments remain, thanks to the endeavour and hunger of various species...

(The entire section is 640 words.)

John Banville (review date 13 April 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Banville, John. “A Rare Species.” New York Review of Books (13 April 2000): 30, 32.

[In the following review, Banville praises Crace's literary talent and experimentation, but criticizes the “dulling” prose style of Being Dead.]

Of the two limiting phenomena of life, that of our coming into the world and that of our going out, it is hard to say which is the more mysterious; certainly we know which is the least acceptable. How can it be that a human being, this extraordinary congeries of affects and emotions, desires and fears, wickedness and good, should at a certain point in time simply cease to be? Even those who believe in the afterlife are baffled...

(The entire section is 3081 words.)

Jonathan Levi (review date 16 April 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Levi, Jonathan. “The Origin of Species.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 April 2000): 19.

[In the following review, Levi offers a positive assessment of Being Dead.]

“These are the instruments of sex outdoors. You need good weather, somewhere dry to stretch out far from dogs and wasps, and no sense of the ridiculous.” No matter that they were a pair of homely zoologists at the uglier end of their 50s, Joseph and Celice had the good fortune of a sunny Tuesday with no classes to teach and a stretch of dune above Baritone Bay, empty of canine and insect witness to their middle-aged pleasure. Lucky enough not to see their murderer, Joseph and Celice were...

(The entire section is 945 words.)

Brooke Allen (review date May 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Allen, Brooke. “Meditations, Good and Bad.” New Criterion 18, no. 9 (May 2000): 63–68.

[In the following excerpt, Allen offers a positive assessment of Being Dead.]

The name of Jim Crace is not famous in this country, but he has long been considered, and deservedly so, one of Britain's better novelists: every sentence that he writes is original and closely observed, worth reading and reading again.

It is hardly enough to say that Crace is an atheist. “I'm not even a relaxed atheist, I'm a post-Dawkins scientific atheist,” he once said in an interview with the Manchester Guardian. His 1998 novel, Quarantine, an imagined...

(The entire section is 1242 words.)

F. González-Crussi (review 14 July 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: González-Crussi, F. “Approaching the Unknowable.” Commonweal (14 July 2000): 27–28.

[In the following review, González-Crussi offers a positive assessment of Being Dead.]

Among book titles, surely Being Dead ranks with the most intriguing. The visitor to the bookstore or the public library, ambulating through the stacks and catching a fleeting sight of the title, cannot but stop and wonder. Is this one addition to the dauntingly prolific race of “How To” books, if books they be called? What folly! Who can teach us that which no one has ever experienced and come back to tell about? Who, indeed, can expound on being dead? This is the one...

(The entire section is 983 words.)

Susan Balée (review date autumn 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Balée, Susan. “Maximalist Fiction.” Hudson Review 53, no. 3 (autumn 2000): 513–20.

[In the following excerpt, Balée offers a positive assessment of Being Dead.]

The novel, like the rest of America, has put on weight.

A good thing, I think, for the former. The best books of the last year were meaty, sensory-soaked reads. Full-bodied characters rose up from the page, multiple plots shouldered each other for chapter space, and history—almost all the best books of the last year were historical novels—provided a feast of curious facts for discriminating readers to chew on and digest. Unfortunately, one of the most disappointing books of...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

Paul Maliszewski (review date fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Maliszewski, Paul. Review of Being Dead, by Jim Crace. Review of Contemporary Fiction 20, no. 3 (fall 2000): 145.

[In the following review, Maliszewski offers a positive assessment of Being Dead.]

After Celice and Joseph, the married zoologists at the center of Jim Crace's novel [Being Dead], die in the first paragraph, their bodies spend the rest of the book concealed by the tall grass and sand dunes along Baritone Bay. Crabs, flies, ants, and gulls locate the bodies and treat the pair as any other object in the natural world; they are potential food, possible shelter, a good place to leave eggs. Six days pass, and Joseph's hand never lets go of...

(The entire section is 328 words.)

Eric Miles Williamson (review date winter 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Williamson, Eric Miles. “Beyond Postmodernism.” Southern Review 37, no. 1 (winter 2001): 174–81.

[In the following excerpt, Williamson offers a positive assessment of Being Dead, though notes that Crace is somewhat “overinsistent” in presenting his “Darwinian” thesis.]

It's been a while since didactic fiction has garnered serious consideration. For the past thirty years John Steinbeck, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and others have suffered neglect if not outright contempt. Their works have been ignored or disdained primarily because their rhetorical messages are all too clear, and “postmodern” writers...

(The entire section is 1234 words.)

Francis Gilbert (review date 3 September 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gilbert, Francis. “The Devil's Larder.New Statesman (3 September 2001): 41.

[In the following review, Gilbert offers a positive assessment of The Devil's Larder.]

Although The Devil's Larder is a novel about food, I wouldn't read it anywhere near the kitchen: some of the most striking of these interlinked stories include the description of a master chef cooking old leather in order to prove that man will eat anything; the tale of a fisherman dying a horrible death from food poisoning; the thoughts of a supermarket cash register and a recollection of an evening of “strip fondue” that results in much scorched flesh. As you might expect...

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Crowley, John. “Wandering Minstrel.” Washington Post Book World (28 May 2000): 6.

Crowley lauds Being Dead, asserting that the book is emotionally touching and filled with inventiveness and surprises.

Eder, Richard. “Food Stories that Aren't Really about Food at All.” New York Times (27 September 2001): E8.

Eder offers a generally favorable assessment of The Devil's Larder.

———. “The Life after Death of a Pair Not Yet Gone.” New York Times (13 April 2000): E11.

Eder offers a positive assessment of Being Dead.


(The entire section is 289 words.)