I'm still reeling from the wonder that was Harvest, Jim Crace's most recent novel, and I was very reluctant to try one of his earlier novels for fear it might disappoint. It didn't. In fact, in many ways it was the equal to Harvest  haunting, compelling and unsettling in equal measure. To say that Jim Crace is Britain's most powerful living novelist is perhaps too wild a claim, but for me he is right up there with the very best that the English speaking language has to offer.


I can say with some confidence that Crace has produced a poignant essay on Death, the likes of which I have never come across in any form of literature. And it resonates, every single line of it, like a death sentence. It has a detached biological style but this in no way detracts from its unnerving power. Quite the contrary, by situating the inevitability of death in its proper natural setting, Crace's novel merely brings that inevitability that much closer.


We don't teach death at school. A pity. We should. To state the blindingly obvious, death is our only certainty that we have to play with, that and the accompanying aging process that many of us have the dubious pleasure of looking forward to. Those who aren't busy being born are busy dying, said one very well-known wordsmith. But for the most part, death is something of a taboo. Don't talk about it and it won't bother us. Fat chance. Even with the very old and frail we tiptoe around the houses. And for the young there is only the promise of never-ending youth, endless adventure and unlimited possibilities. We have tried to turn nature on its head, and in so doing we have done ourselves, young and old, a huge disfavour.


So in the absence of any truly open discourse on what is our only certainty, we have only our novelists and poets to fill the void. And for me, Crace offers us a gold medal service. His prose is neither mawkish or sensationalist. His message is clear enough. Like any living thing  plant or animal, we start from a tiny seed, grow tall or stunted according to the prevailing environment and the winds of chance, and then we die. Of course, even if we accept this simple intellectual construct as a fact, which it surely is, we still carry on our daily lives as if we have a thousand years ahead of us. What a strange species we are.


For some an essay devoted to death, even one in scintillating novel form, may seem a depressing prospect. But for me, Crace's work was wonderfully liberating. Liberating in that it eases our inevitable existential angst, and liberating in that it reminds us to value each and every moment of our conscious being. And of course, one of those precious moments will soon be our last.

Even stars must decompose, disrupt and blister in the sky. Everything was born to go. The universe has learned to cope with death. P208


I can only say this by way of conclusion; read this novel before you die. It will help.


End JPK Copyright, 31/5/16

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 May 2018 09:47 )