Review: The Passage (Justin Cronin) 5/5

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This is an absolutely stunning novel.

I loved it, every moment of it. I was given it by a colleague who thought it would be exactly my kind of thing, knowing that I love thick, gothic, supernatural fiction, and she was absolutely right.

It’s amazing, a book I literally couldn’t stop reading – every spare moment – and I pretty much picked up the second one immediately. Definitely go and read it now.

Spoilers below.

It’s told in such an interesting way – starting off with a series of medical experiments, designed as a combination of ways to extend human life and possibly bring an end to death (the scientist’s goal) and a way to create a super-soldier (once the army starts funding the research). What I loved about this is that where this book starts off feels like a fairly normal post-apocalyptic novel, in that I expected to see a little bit of the world before, and then the aftermath of what was inevitably going to go horribly wrong (science fiction, of course, being littered with novels and stories of scientists trying to do good and accidentally ending humanity). But this isn’t really what happens. After the first third or so, the World Before is over, and we’re into the World After, but instead of being simply a story of survival, Cronin moves us about 100 years after the outbreak, and that is what I found fascinating. So many apocalyptic novels either focus on immediate survival and aftermath, within a couple of years, or they are so far in the future that the reasons for the apocalypse are vague and lost and new societies have already been formed, usually along some kind of feudal lines.

Cronin’s novel, for the most part, takes place where the event itself is just far enough away that the characters can’t really explain what happened but as third or fourth generation, they know enough of the world before to understand. They find food and fuel in buildings which have smashed windows and some dereliction, but which aren’t crumbling around them. The landscape has gone to seed, but roads still exist, some cars still work, tinned food is still edible. I found it fascinating to have the event and the world before as something that was still, just, in living memory, but something that the main characters have never experienced, about as far away (I think, thinking about the time frame) as World War I for us now. Imagine that. We know so much about it, understand it logically and can imagine it, but it’s another world to our current experience.

The other thing I loved about this was that the language is stunning. I found myself occasionally stopping to write down or photograph a sentence because they were just amazing; so descriptive and evocative, and well put together. Plot wise, Cronin’s timing is almost perfect – he knows exactly where to leave a scene and move to something else, leaving a cliffhanger that’s almost tv-end-of-series frustrating, and how to bring you to tears at times. There are moments when you think you’ve guessed, moments before it does, what is about to happen, and he pulls the rug from under you and you’re as stunned as the characters he’s describing.

It’s a brilliant novel. Just amazing.

5/5

 

Marital Visit

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Marital Visit
The odd thing put away
in the wrong place – cups and plates
back in the cupboard
that I always leave out,
curtains open on the street
that I always keep drawn,
remind me of your recent brief
progress through here,
looking for something in the attic.
How could I forget:
butter in the fridge, but never eggs,
burnt matches everywhere,
in spite of the gas lighter,
jam jars soaking in water
to get the labels off.
How typical of you
to give the Chinese teapot a last chance
to prove itself in company.
And look at that tea towel
slung like your signature
over the back of a chair.
I could weep for the small spoons
lying down with the forks,
the corkscrew with the tea strainer.
Leave them where they are forever?
Or harden my heart
and put them back where they belong?

HUGO WILLIAMS (2008)