Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Being Dead by Jim Crace

My ambition has been to read every Jim Crace book he has ever written. But I've been quite slow. Here are a few observations about the second one I've read. 

Being Dead by Jim Crace.

Two middle aged doctors return to the sand dunes at Baritone Bay after 30 years where they first met and made love. It marks the start of their 30 year marriage. But this second visit is different. They are naked and dead. They have been murdered.

The novel weaves different narrative strands. Firstly the novel details  the slow decomposition and decay of the bodies until the corpses are discovered six days later. We read about the changing weather, the different creatures, the chemical reactions, the body fluids. Crace writes with a detached detailed and sensitive prose that becomes poetic at times. We are confronted by the physicality of death. Its materialness. There's nothing spiritual or emotional about it. It just is.

A second narrative thread describes the first meeting 30 years ago as post graduate students staying at a cabin near the bay along with four other students. Crace describes attitudes, attractions and ambitions of the six students - with special focus on Joseph and Celice's meeting and relationship. The prose here is delicate, sensitive, observant. He picks up details of character that draws us in. A third narrative is that of the couples final day. Crace takes us on a journey from the moment they were bludgeoned to death by a random stranger to the start of their day. I found this thread the least interesting with lots of domestic details and descriptions of the relationship established over a long period of time. The final narrative thread - the most novelistic - follows Syl's discovery of her parent's  murder. Although not a close family - she seems quite antagonistic to start with - soon becomes love, hard won, battered out through the years. It is touching, beautiful at times.

I enjoyed the novel. Read it in three readings. I liked the individual, unattractive couple and their daughter. I liked the random act of murder that is left completely unexplored except for the inevitable mopping up by the police. I loved the forensic descriptions of purification and decomposition of the two bodies. I thought the Syl narrative - introduced about half way through the novel - helped keep the text engaging. Crace is a craftsman. He's completely in control of his material. And brings it all gently and pleasingly to it's end.

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