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Being Dead by Jim Crace
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's review
Jun 11, 2009

really liked it

Crace will be in Austin this fall, teaching the fiction workshop. This is the first book of his I've read, and it was perfect for my current study of perspective.

The novel focuses on the deaths of two zoologists--Celice and Joseph--tracing backwards from their murders. The narration steps completely out of the story at times, following the furtive paths of "what if" or "had things been different". I usually dislike endeavors of the sort, more distracting than supporting, but Crace executes the digressions deftly. They're necessary, and become critical components of Celice and Joseph's lives and deaths.

We learn more of these two zoologists in death than we ever did in life (seeing as we meet them dead, this seems fitting). There is no grand after-life (they're scientists after all), but there is the grace and eloquence of dying. Being Dead looks at death in a way we shy from, and it calls us on our fears, teasing us with its decomposing bodies and scavenging animals, its smells and entrails.

As Crace writes in the start of chapter 2, "Had Joseph and Celice been killed, their bodies found, then carried home not on that Tuesday afternoon, but, say, a hundred years ago, when even doctors of zoology could be lamented publicly, hysterically, without embarrassment, their family and their neighbors would have held a midnight quivering for them."

The book becomes this quivering; it becomes the unembarrassed lament--open, honest, loud. "A hundred years ago no one was silent or tongue-tied, as we are now, when death was in the room... Death was cultivated, watered like a plant." This is the cultivation. What grows by the end is nothing to fear or shy from; death is not always ugly or treacherous.

There is very little dialogue in this text, yet it feels like a conversation. It is intimate, inviting, investing. You don't miss Joseph and Celice; you don't walk away with a sense of tragedy. And this, especially under the circumstances of their deaths, is remarkable.
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message 1: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Great write up! I've had this on my to-read shelf for quite a while; now I'll have to give it a shot.

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