Synopses & Reviews
Jim Crace is a writer of spectacular originality and a command of language that moves a reader effortlessly into the world of his imagination. In The Pesthouse
he imagines an America of the future where a man and a woman trek across a devastated and dangerous landscape, finding strength in each other and an unexpected love.
Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a lawless, scantly populated wasteland. The machines have stopped. The government has collapsed. Farmlands lie fallow and the soil is contaminated by toxins. Across the country, families have packed up their belongings to travel eastward toward the one hope left: passage on a ship to Europe.
Franklin Lopez and his brother, Jackson, are only days away from the ocean when Franklin, nearly crippled by an inflamed knee, is forced to stop. In the woods near his temporary refuge, Franklin comes upon an isolated stone building. Inside he finds Margaret, a woman with a deadly infection and confined to the Pesthouse to sweat out her fever. Tentatively, the two join forces and make their way through the ruins of old America. Confronted by bandits rounding up men for slavery, finding refuge in the Ark, a religious community that makes bizarre demands on those they shelter, Franklin and Margaret find their wariness of each other replaced by deep trust and an intimacy neither one has ever experienced before.
The Pesthouse is Jim Crace's most compelling novel to date. Rich in its understanding of America's history and ethos, it is a paean to the human spirit.
"[A] thoughtful and exciting post-apocalyptic tale....Crace, an award-winning British writer who should be more widely appreciated, manages to give depth and complexity to characters in a post-literate society who are practically nonverbal." Library Journal
"Equal parts allegory, adventure story and rich meditation on existence, The Pesthouse imagines a place on the Dream Highway where the best in human nature always has a path. For that it serves as perfect complement and tonic to The Road." Chicago Sun-Times
"Less spare and more idiosyncratic, this new book risks being swamped in the tsunami of publicity for The Road. And that would be a shame, because The Pesthouse boasts three noteworthy features that McCarthy's story lacks: women characters, a smooth landing and some sly humor to leaven the bleakness. If for no other reason, read it to compare." Seattle Times
"The Pesthouse is no less a dark envisioning, though it lacks the startling high-wire act of Being Dead, creating instead a tooth-and-claw society in the wilds of America, somewhere on the other side of global catastrophe." Boston Globe
"Crace can write amazingly well, as he did in Being Dead. When he's on, as he often is here, the results are stellar." Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review
"McCarthy may have cornered the market on blood-red prose that captures postapocalyptic violence and horror, but Crace provides an equally intriguing vision that seems less frenzied but not too sanguine." San Francisco Chronicle
"The journey in The Pesthouse is quite different from that in Cormac McCarthy's recent book, The Road, though both run through postapocalyptic landscapes....Mr. Crace is the coldest of writers, and the tenderest." Richard Eder, The New York Times
"The Pesthouse is never funny, but Crace's mordant humor shines darkly, making it both provocative and winsome." Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Jim Crace is the author of eight previous novels. Being Dead was shortlisted for the 1999 Whitbread Fiction Prize and won the U.S. National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2000. In 1997, Quarantine was named the Whitbread Novel of the Year and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Jim Crace has also received the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the E. M. Forster Award, and the Guardian Fiction Prize. He lives in Birmingham, England.
The Pesthouse begins with an idea many readers will find arresting, even shocking: American emigrants moving eastward, towards Europe. What does the book say about history?
I was hoping to investigate my own confused love-hate relationship with the United States, which – to grossly simplify – came down to enjoying and admiring most things American when I was in the country but distrusting all things American when they were exported and imposed. Novels are by nature mischievous and disruptive. And they can do what they want without drawing any real blood. So, by way of trying to articulate my confusion, I could simply reverse America’s position in the world and stick it at the bottom of the pile, give it a medieval future instead of one swaggering with wealth and technology and power. That was the starting point of The Pesthouse. I had no idea where it would lead me.
Technology has failed in the world you create. What does technology have to do with civilization?
Technology is the toolmaker. Tools protect us from many of the discomforts of the natural universe. There’s no denying that. They allow us to be less bestial. The Pesthouse removes tools from America, just to see how it would cope. What levels of civilization would survive? The good news is that – if this novel’s agenda is to be trusted – humankind’s civility is deeply imbedded and can survive the loss of almost anything, so long as there is love and rain.
Your fans will know not to expect a Hollywood ending to this book. How would you describe the ending (without giving it away)?
Well, it’s a curious love story with a happy ending, so you can’t get any more Hollywood than that. But Hollywood earns its optimism a bit too cheaply, in my view. My novels go into the darkest corners of existence to hear their brightest notes. I’ve always counted myself a deeply optimistic writer, though many of my readers have considered me irredeemably sombre. With The Pesthouse, however, the optimism is unmistakable. Although the American Dream is stripped naked by the novel, at the end of the story America is ready to recreate itself, to find its West again, to strike out for a territory which with any luck will be just as splendid and as lovable as the old America but not as overbearing.