Being Dead: A Novel

Being Dead: A Novel

by Jim Crace

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429980159
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/02/2000
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 597,624
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Jim Crace is the author of six novels, including Quarantine (FSG, 1997), which won the 1997 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He lives in England.

Jim Crace is the author of many novels, including Quarantine, which won the 1997 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction. His novels have been translated into eighteen languages. He lives with his wife and children in Birmingham, England.

Read an Excerpt

Being Dead

By Jim Crace


Copyright © 1999 Jim Crace
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8015-9


For old times' sake, the doctors of zoology had driven out of town that Tuesday afternoon to make a final visit to the singing salt dunes at Baritone Bay. And to lay a ghost. They never made it back alive. They almost never made it back at all.

They'd only meant to take a short nostalgic walk along the coast where they had met as students almost thirty years before. They had made love for the first time in these same dunes. And they might have made love there again if, as the newspapers were to say, 'Death, armed with a piece of granite, had not stumbled on their kisses.'

They were the oddest pair, these dead, spreadeagled lovers on the coast: Joseph and Celice. Both had been teachers. He was director at the Tidal Institute, where he was noted for his coldness as much as for his brains. She was a part-time tutor at the university. Hardly any of their colleagues had ever seen them together, or visited them at home, let alone witnessed them touch. How unexpected, then, that these two, of all couples, should be found like this, without their underclothes, their heads caved in, unlikely victims of unlikely passions. Who would have thought that unattractive people of that age and learning would encounter sex and murder in the open air?

They paid a heavy price for their nostalgia.


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 neighbours would have held a midnight quivering for them. The bodies would be laid out side by side on the bed in their best clothes and shoes, their wounds disguised, their hair slicked back, eyes shut, mouths shut, his hand on hers, their faces rhyming. The room would smell of camphor, candlewax and soap, and be as full of coughs and hard-backed chairs as a doctor's waiting room.

The mourners, women first, would come as soon as it was dark to start their venerations, weeping till their shoulders shook, tapping on the floorboards with their boots and sticks, rattling their bracelets and their cuffs. Whoever had the squeaky chair or the loosest floorboard to creak or the most resounding of sobs could count herself the most distraught. The greater the racket the deeper the grief. A hundred years ago no one was silent or tongue-tied, as we are now, when death was in the room. They had not yet muzzled grief or banished it from daily life. Death was cultivated, watered like a plant. There was no need for whispering or mime. Let the hubbub drive the devils out, they'd tell themselves. Let's make a row. Let's shout. There were even quiver sticks to buy and shake, made out of metal rods with clacking wooden rings. The children would compete for those; their squabbling and their snatching would only benefit the din. A quivering should make the whole house rattle, it was said. It ought to keep the neighbourhood awake. It ought to sound as if a thousand crows were pecking at the roof. But those were optimistic times; death was an ill-lit corridor with all its greater rooms beyond.

At midnight, when the men arrived, all the guests would stand to form a circle round the bed. They'd grip the mattress and the bedboards, a shoal of hands, to quiver the murdered couple, winnowing and shaking out their wrong-doings so that they'd enter heaven unopposed. The ashy chaff of all their errors and misdeeds would drift like cigar motes in the candlelight. Their tallowed sins would smudge the men's clean shirts.

Afterwards, fuelled by the older children of the house who'd serve them coffee or little cups of Boulevard liqueur throughout the night, the neighbours and the relatives would reminisce about the dead, starting with the hearsay of the couple's final, bludgeoned breaths. And then – with, naturally, some shuffling, dozing silences in the hollows of the night when no one could concentrate on anything except the hardness of the chairs – their recollections would regress through the years. Their memories, exposed to the backward-running time of quiverings in which regrets became prospects, resentments became love, experience became hope, would up-end the hourglass of Celice and Joseph's life together and let their sands reverse. When north is south, the dead sit up, climb off their beds, grow younger and indifferent to dying. Skin stretches tight, hair thickens and becomes as sleek as nightcats', blows and bruises are revoked. Wounds close.

First, the friends and neighbours would recall Joseph and Celice's latest months, 'So quiet – considerate, I mean – you hardly knew if they were in.' Then their middle years, their married life, their work, perhaps, their parenting, their wedding, the student days, until – with sentimental guesses at their early lives, what sort of girl and boy they must have been, how they excelled at books if not at sport – their childhoods were achieved.

With practised timing, the quiverings for the murdered couple would end at daybreak. As dawn was flattening the candle-flames and deepening the corners of the room, an aunt, a colleague, an old friend would celebrate the wonder of the couple's births over fifty years before, their infancies, how sweet and difficult they'd been, how promising, how loved.

Quiverings were resurrections of the dead.

But these are hardly optimistic or sentimental times – and that Tuesday afternoon was not a hundred years ago. Poor Joseph and Celice would not be found and carried home for burial. Not for a while, at least. Nor would their faces rhyme sweetly on a bed. No one would come to hide their wounds or slick their hair. There'd be no camphor, candlewax or soap to disguise the smell of their decay. A thousand crows would not be pecking at the roof. There would be crueller birds and greater spaces. There's nothing after death for Joseph and Celice but 'death and nothing after'.

Yet there can be a quivering of sorts. It might be fitting, even kind, to first encounter them like this, out on the coast, traduced, spreadeagled and absurd, as they conclude their lives, when they are at their ugliest, and then regress, reclaiming them from death. To start their journey as they disembark, but then to take them back where they have travelled from, is to produce a version of eternity. First light, at last, for Joseph and Celice. A dawning death. And all their lives ahead of them.

The doctors of zoology were out of time, perhaps, but they can be rescued from the dunes by memory, receding, and tucked up in their waking beds again, still tenants of the room.


3.50 P.M.

Celice, at fifty-five, was hardly old enough to have lost her fear of death. That accommodation is only for the elderly or the insane. But her dying, chaotic though it was, was far too sudden to be frightening. There were only fifty seconds between half completing her last sentence ('It's not as if ... ') and drawing her last breath. She did not have the leisure or the knowledge to be fearful. She just felt – for a tumbling instant – like she'd often felt at night, half conscious in the falling shudders of a dream. Winded, weightless and betrayed. Her heart collided with her ribs. Her body shook and arched. Her head was loose and hurtling through rimless chambers. Some conjuror had vaporized the earth and emblazoned all the space through which she fell with pixilated, pulsing lights. Her final moments were kinetic, abstract, pointillist.

Judging by the modest blood-flow of her far from modest wounds, Celice's heart had ceased pumping almost as soon as she was hit. Her skull was not as thick as Joseph's. (That was something that she'd always known about the man. Her husband was curmudgeonly, distracted, timid and thickskulled.) Her skull was weaker than the granite too, of course. The bone caved in like shell. Her brain, once breached and ripped, was as pale and mushy as a honeycomb, a kilogram of dripping honeycomb. It was as if a honeycomb had been exposed below the thin bark of a log by someone with a trenching spade. Her honeycomb had haemorrhaged; its substance had been spilt.

The blows across her face and throat cut off the blood supply and, though her brain did what it could to make amends, to compensate for the sudden loss of oxygen and glucose, its corridors of life were pinched and crushed. The signals of distress it sent were stars. The myths were true; thanks to the ruptured chemistry of her cortex, she hurtled to the stars.

Celice began to hyperventilate, a squall of sips arid gasps and stuttered climaxes. Her heart and lungs were frenzy-feeding on the short supply of blood, until, quite suddenly, they failed. They had abandoned her, too devastated to survive. Her chest muscles had forgotten how to rise and fall. Her reflexes were lost. She could not cough or even swallow back the blood. The brain-cell membrane pumps shut down. Celice had lost control for once. She'd gone beyond the help of medicine and miracles. No breath, no memory.

There were still battles to be fought but these would be post mortem, the soundless, inert wars of chemicals contesting for her trenches and her bastions amid the debris of exploded cells. Calcium and water usurped the place of blood and oxygen so that her defunct brain, almost at once, began to swell and tear its canopies, spilling all its saps and liquors, all its stored immersions of passion, memory and will, on to her scarf, her jacket and the grass.

Less than a minute. She was fortunate.

Was Joseph any luckier, with his thick skull? Already he was almost lost, though if (the wildest dream) angel-paramedics had arrived by helicopter and flown him to the hospital they might have saved his life, if not his senses. His blood pressure was madly high already, from diet, age, the titillations of the day, and now from shock. His heart was straining on its membranes like a hatching sopbug, pulsing its wet wings against the sac. But he was breathing still, alive enough to feel the pain and to experience the dying. He outlived Celice by more than half an hour.

Joseph had been insensible at first. He was concussed. His grey matter could metabolize only half the glucose that it needed. But he was functioning. His kidneys still processed and cleaned his cells. His stomach still digested what was left of the mango and the cheese brioche he'd eaten for his breakfast, and the humiliating sandwich that he'd had for lunch, twenty minutes earlier. His blood supplied his tissues with their nutrients and sent its white corpuscles to construct their canopies of scars across his wounds. His bone marrow continued to add new cells to the trillions that had already passed their dark, unknowing time as part of him. His pupils dilated in the sunlight. His bladder processed all his waste, although he was incontinent already. He still breathed the heavy, salty air of summer in the dunes. Occasionally he moved his leg or extended a finger. He was warm, kept warm by his unenlightened, circulating blood, and by the sunshine. He hadn't put on any screening block, as Celice had advised him to that morning. His naked skin was getting tanned. He urinated down his thigh.

But some minutes later, and against the odds, Joseph came back into the world. He surfaced briefly from his coma – awakened by a rush of oxygen, its bubbles spiralling and rising like the gas in lemonade to pout and burst inside his brain. He'd never heard a wind so loud before or noticed so much odour from the busy earth or felt the syncopated pulsings of his body. The sun was blinding him. The galaxies were bearing down. He turned his head out of the light, despite the pain of moving, so that his cheek was flatter on the grass. He opened his undamaged eye. His spectacles, still on his head, were not broken but they were smeared with blood.

At first, he could see only blades of grass, ungreened by the smudging on the lenses – and then, half a metre to his side, he saw his wife. Her leg was level with his face, braced and supported on its toes and knee. He knew her ankle and her foot. He did not have the angle or the strength to lift his chin and look beyond her knees to glimpse her face. Perhaps she was not dead or even injured. Her leg looked so composed and calm. Her toes were manicured. Her nails were berry red. There was the usual shine on her skin from shaving, the familiar, heavy calf, peppered with sand, the broken veins behind her ankle bone, the foot's low arch, the ochre calluses on her heel.

It must have seemed her leg had moved, a shrug of skin, a spasm of muscle, enough to dislodge some calf-sand and to shake the longer grass under her foot. Joseph tried to bark and squeak her name. His arm was heavy and numb, dislocated at the shoulder. The air seemed too thick to penetrate with anything as soft as flesh. Yet somehow, fortified by his self-pity, Joseph found the will and the adrenaline to reach across towards his wife. He wanted to apologize. He had to twist his wrist against the broken angle of his arm and weave his fingers through the heavy air. His hand – bruised a little when the wedding ring was stolen – dropped on to the stretched flesh of her lower leg, the tendon strings, the shallows of her ankle. Blood from his damaged knuckles ran over her skin but not enough to glue his hand in place. He spread his fingers and tried to grip a solid bone to steady himself. He had to stop his body being swept away, by wind, by time, by continental drift, by shooting stars, by shame.

Her skin was warm, so Joseph might have taken this as confirmation that his wife was still alive, that she might get up off the grass at any moment, collect her clothes and go for help. He could afford to sleep. He started on a dream. An anxious dream in which he'd left his daily ledger out on the deck one morning, on the breakfast table. A careless oversight. It could well rain and wash away his ink, the records of his life. His pages would be turned to pulp. Or else they might be found and read by strangers.

At what point had the life – curmudgeonly, distracted, timid and thick-skulled – gone out of him? Joseph's heart was squirming like an angler's worm, refusing to be reconciled to the awaiting deep, but weakening with every beat. The fish would rise and take it soon. Mondazy's celebrated fish. But the agony did not belong only to the heart. Every pod and pocket of his body played its part, at its own pace, in its own way. Joseph was being gathered in by death, cell by cell by cell. He came to be half of himself, and then a quarter of himself, and then a fraction of himself, which was too small to measure. The music and the mayhem had all gone. His more-than-half-an-hour had elapsed.

They say that hearing is the last of our proficiencies to die, that corpses hear the rustling of bed sheets being pulled across their faces, the early weeping and the window being closed, the footsteps on the wooden stairs, the ruffian departing, the doctor's scratchy pen. That is why our generation talks so quietly in the dying room. And that is why the quiverings of old were not a waste. The body hears the widow and the child, the rattle of the chimney-pot, the quiver sticks, the life unravelled backwards through the night.

The final sound that Joseph heard was his own bark. His face was grey-white, sheenless, dulled. He was still sweating and his penis was erect, not filled with blood and passion but stiffened by the paroxysms of his muscles. Cruel fate. His limbs and face still twitched, a reflex to the blood's acidity. His larynx was convulsed. The sound he made was not a rattle or a whoop, but more like the call of foxes, or else a gull, or else the unresponding kick-start of a motorbike. Within a moment of the bark – and the few retreating cub squeaks that followed it – Joseph stared up at the day with flat, toneless eyes. Again, no breath, no memory.


Excerpted from Being Dead by Jim Crace. Copyright © 1999 Jim Crace. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Being Dead 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
SpyderWryter More than 1 year ago
Being Dead is a beautifully written novel. Crace constructs sentences with such vivid imagery that there is a simple pleasure in reading his words slowly and letting the picture he paints come alive in your mind. If I may provide a quick example: "The house itself is stretching, creaky in the rousing wash of dawn's first grey. The sun's forehead is peeking at the day, its face still indigo from sleep, its cloud head uncombed and tumbling its vapour curls on to the skyline of the sea." If that doesn't do anything for you, doesn't create an image in your head, then this book may not be for you.

This is a slow (but not difficult) and pleasurable read. The characters are credible, and Crace evokes your empathy for them. The narrator telling this story has a captivating voice capable of compassion, humor, knowledge and brutal honesty. He very well becomes a character in the story.

I have nothing but good things to say about this novel. If you enjoy the craft of a book, if you enjoy complex and realized characters, if you're interested in the fragility of mortality and just how to recapture the glory of a life passed away, if you want to see beauty where you think it couldn't possibly exist, then this book is for you. I never though I'd be saying the words "Being Dead is great," but there you have it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jim Crace is the Flaubert of our time. That may seem a rather heady exaggeration, but I have yet to read a living writer who is a better craftsman of that most fundamental unit of style, the sentence. Crace's are elegant, slightly unusual, a touch poetic, but never heavy handed or overdone. I'm always amazed at the way his powers never waver, not once--the stylistic consistency of his works, maintaining that perfection of style on every page, in every sentence, from start to finish, is great proof of a true literary genius. I can't recommend his work enough.
dreamreader on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I was drawn to this work because I'd recently enjoyed Mary Roach's collection of essays in "Stiff" and am of roughly the same age as poor Celice and Joseph who lie murdered and decaying in the sand dunes as this book opens. We Americans hide and disguise so much about death, cloaking our language in euphemisms or having words fail us altogether as we comfort loved ones "in this difficult time." My recent reading of fiction has veered either toward the slightly macabre and melancholy, or to English writers, so I was drawn with morbid fascination to Jim Crace's "Being Dead". Crace shifts perspective from the moments just after the couple's murder - to the receding hours just before, the advancing hours and days just after, and thirty years prior when they first met. What is lovely at the core of this "quivering" for rotting corpses is the elliptical way their lives together begin and end. We often read to know we're not alone, so it's especially comforting to read Crace's summary of the fragility and preciousness of life - "There is no remedy for death - or birth - except to hug the spaces in between. Live loud. Live wide. Live tall."
Foxen on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A haunting little novel about a murdered couple. It explores the circuitous causes and meanings of their deaths, meandering through the past that brought them to that place at that time, while also following their decomposition before the bodies are found, and their daughter's search for them when they don't show up at work. It really tries to convey the banality of death, the commonplace and biological, to cut past the sentimental and romanticized ways in which we avoid really thinking about it, and yet show that it has meaning through its reality. It's a good novel, though admittedly morbid. I personally did not find it as heavy as some other reviewers have, perhaps because I'd already read Stiff by Mary Roach, and was somewhat desensitized to the idea of dead bodies. I also know that some people found the characters kind of stiff and unappealing, but I didn't find them particularly objectionable. Overall, a good read.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing 11 months ago
In a manner zigzagging back and forth in time, the author traces the death of two zoology professors whose remains lie on the sands of Baritone Bay. The foreground is the nature of the land, raw and barren but soon to be developed. The background is the story of the married couple whose original meeting we see portrayed in this book. We learn why the couple returned to the place of their original meeting, the sad aspects of their turbulent relationship with their only daughter, and the reason for their ultimate demise. The author¿s way with words makes this book a delight to read. Its unorthodox timeline keeps the reader alert as the story progresses. The total package examines death from its natural base and adds the angle of human misfortune. The story is quite enchanting despite its macabre subject..
tloeffler on LibraryThing 11 months ago
A very interesting, although bizarre, story about, well, being dead. The book begins with two bodies lying on the beach, and what is happening to those bodies as they deteriorate. The story then moves back to the day the two met, and intersperses stories from then forward with stories from the bodies backward. It's very odd, and actually very effective. I felt, though, as if I didn't learn enough about the couple to make me care very much. Well-written, just left me feeling unsatisfied.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing 11 months ago
While I can easily see the skill, research and art that went into this book, and even understand why it won awards, because of its subject - violent death presented in a very impersonal way - I found it a rather depressing read. The vivid descriptions of bodily decomposition and putrefaction, presented as they were in a most scientific manner, were concurrently morbidly fascinating and simply off-putting. The thread of absolute atheism that runs throughout the narrative was also disturbing - thought-provoking, but still disturbing, even if the reader has wrestled with his own problems of faith. Crace is quite definite in this matter, noting that "This was not death as it was advertised: a fine translation to a better place; a journey through the calm of afterlife into the realms of instinct and desire. The persons had not gone elsewhere,, to blink and wake ... They were, instead, as insensible as stones ..."The murdered couple's daughter, Syl, embodies this atheism even further when she sits outside a church and listens to a congregation singing hymns, but finds no comfort - "Her father's songs, for all their mawkish sentiment, were far more powerful. Love songs transcend, transport, because there's such a thing as love. But hymns and prayers have feeble tunes because there are no gods."There is more depressing stuff as the emotionless narrator goes on to describe how the crabs, insects, gulls and rodents "went to work" browsing the human remains. The murderer himself is never identified or described; he is simply a means to an end, an instrument who causes this very final and very 'natural' state of "being dead."The redeeming parts of the story come in the quirky love story that is Joseph and Celice, both zoologists, but nearly complete opposites in their outside interests and personalities. After thirty years together, they bicker and argue and make each other angry - "Yet there still was love, the placid love that only time can cultivate, a love preserved by habit and by memory."Yes this is a very skilfully written story, but it leaves me cold. So maybe Mr. Crace did what he intended to do. Death is very final, but it's also an integral part of life. We begin to die from the moment we are conceived. I get it. But do I really want to have my face - my mind - rubbed in it? Nope.
msf59 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
No, this not another zombie novel. Not even close. Actually, a better title might be ¿Scientists in Love¿, although that fails to capture the dark, haunting tone, that shadows these pages.Joseph and Celice, are middle-aged zoologists. In the opening chapter, they are found murdered in a remote area of the dunes. As their bodies begin to decompose, the narrative takes us on a serpentine journey through this couple¿s lives and we witness their chance meeting in college, a long, sometimes bumpy thirty-year marriage, the usual joys and pitfalls, a restless, unhappy daughter and then finally their last fateful day.There is some gruesome detail to this story but it¿s described in a simple scientific manner. It is also filled with some lovely prose:¿Yet there was still love, the placid love that only time can cultivate, a love preserved by habit and memory. Their tree had little rising sap, perhaps, but it was held firm by deep and ancient roots.¿Highly recommended!
Whisper1 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Many thanks to Madeline and Donna for recommending this book. And, a big thanks for Brenzi (Bonnie) for sending an autographed copy to me as a gift!I tremendously enjoyed this book, though, it does seem incongruently odd to say that I liked a book about "being dead".The writing is magical, lyrical, complex and compelling. Two Middle aged Zoologists, Joseph and Celice have long struggled with a marriage that simply doesn't mesh. Successful in their field, yet by societal standands, they have failed in many areas, including raising a daughter who is self sufficicent and other directed.It an attempt to find one last chance at romance, Joseph invites Celice to return to the area on Baritone Bay where they first met as post graduate students and had sexual encounters in the sand.Tragically, their nostalgic journey nets their senseless killing and they are robbed and beaten to death in the deserted dunes.While Craces' descriptions of the decay of their bodies is not an easy read, the reader is hooked by his intelligent philosophical rendering of life and the natural process we will all endure when we die.This is seem less writing that is not romantic or over embellished with sorrow. And, while it seems clinical, there is enough character development that holds the reader riveted to the story, deeply understanding the fact that on a bring, sunny day, life can suddenly end.Juxtapositioning chapters between the bodies on the beach and details regarding the lives of Cecile and Joseph lends to sadness, but also detachment. Truly, the characters are not like able. From the beginning chapters, the reader does not like self obsessed, pragmatic Cecile. Joseph seems flat and unappealing. Still, in no way does Crace intimate that their senseless, untimely death was justified.Highly Recommended!
sarah-e on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The blend of science and story is what lingers with me after finishing this book. The story itself isn't warm enough - I didn't identify with the characters or particularly like them - and doesn't really leave the reader with good feelings. It wouldn't say it left me with feelings for characters or plot lines at all. The science is better, and if I was compelled to turn a page it was for description of how the natural world around the bodies reacted. Something felt missing, or cold, and I think that was reliance on the scientific aspects of the story. I enjoyed it. I wouldn't recommend it or read it again because too much of it was icky, but I did enjoy it.
TTAISI-Editor on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Hard to believe a book that includes so much detail about death, dying, and decomposition could be so good, but it is!
RoseCityReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being Dead is a well-written, at times even engrossing, novel, but is essentially bleak. Author Jim Crace provides a literary "quivering" for Joseph and Celise, the murdered protagonists, going back in stages to fill in details of both their last day and their 30 year marraige. The problem for me is that the author's "secular" view of life and death is depressing. Maybe some find the idea that we live, we die, and that is all there is to it, comforting. I find it grim. Add to my fundamental disagreement in outlook the fact that neither Joseph nor Celise was very happy with their marraige, their daughter, or life in general, and the whole thing is a real downer.
Zmrzlina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this very much. The title struck me as so odd...being dead. Being is conscious existence and dead is conscious of nothing, or so I always thought. In this book being dead seems almost more animated than being alive. The book is described on the cover as unsentimental, which is mostly true and I think that is one reason why I like it so much. I will for sure read more from this author.
ShelfMonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What is death? It is a question that haunts every human, as natural to our being as breathing. Many, many thousands of books have been written on the subject, most aimed at determining an afterlife of some sort, or a purpose behind it all. However, author Jim Crace is not content to mirror such themes, whether they are phantasmagorical (Richard Matheson's WHAT DREAMS MAY COME), or contemplative (M. Scott Peck's IN HEAVEN AS ON EARTH). Crace wants to understand what death is, what it means, and what is lost and gained in the process.Crace achieves a remarkable mediation on the subject in BEING DEAD, a novel that is unnerving in its originality and tenderness. He centres on Joseph and Celice, an elderly married couple, brutally murdered on a quiet beach. Crace takes several offbeat tacts in portraying what these deaths mean, both biologically and emotionally.First, the bodies themselves. Crace goes into determinedly graphic detail in his characterization of decomposition. As the bodies slowly deteriorate, the small world that surrounds them begins to interact, to reclaim the material for nature. For most of us, the thought of what happens to our bodies physically after death is a repulsive one. Yet Crace never offends, and never becomes exploitative. The lyricism and sense of melancholy Crace brings to the biological breakdown of a body are truly haunting.Interwoven with biology is nostalgia, as Crace charts the map of Joseph and Celice's relationship. From the first awkward rush of passion, to the resignation that an elderly couple may face every day, Crace allows the reader a glimpse into their minds, a reminder that every person is unique, and what we see is only superficial. Joseph's small frame and majestic singing voice only hint at his unhappiness with his life's outcome; physical opposite Celice's apparent quiet love of her husband masks her increasing frustration with the lack of passion in her life. These small glimpses into the makeup of their lives are an abrupt change from the description of their deaths, but the contrast serves to heighten the senselessness of death, and the steadfast mysteries that life and death both contain. How can we ever believe we can comprehend death, when we cannot even begin to understand the true nature and purpose of one solitary individual?Thirdly, Crace follows their daughter, a sullen young woman who has never gotten along with either of her parents. As she reluctantly searches for her missing mother and father, we view the way our lives continue after death, in the thoughts and memories of those we knew, and in the biological framework of our progeny. While the daughter would never admit it, she is equal parts mother and father, displaying both the good and bad traits of her parents. In Joseph and Celice's death, she finds a measure of comfort and renewal, ultimately of purpose.I do not mean for this to sound like a spiritual odyssey. As in his previous novel QUARANTINE (a realist version of Christ's forty days in the desert), Crace is not ready to resort to comforting platitudes on what comes next. Death is death, and what is beyond remains, and should remain, a mystery. Death is both intensely personal, and a universal experience shared by all. By providing the reader no easy answers, by never revealing the answer to the question, Crace provides an altogether mesmerizing and satisfying experience.
NativeRoses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A virtuoso fusion of high-concept fabulism and psychological realism which takes a pitilessly minute observation, as through a microscope, of the processes of organic decay in the lifeless bodies of a middle-aged married couploe, nad makes something unexpectedly romantic.
mattviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have never read anything like Being Dead: haunting, grotesque, sadly beautiful and unforgettable. The novel is not a murder mystery as it attempts to disguise many readers. It is rather an inventive, daring poetic meditation of a middle-aged couple's re-discovery of love. Nostalgia had ineluctably brought them back to Baritone Bay where they had first plunged into intimacy some thirty years ago. But Joseph and Celice had paid too heavy a price for their nostalgia: their lives.The beginning is the end in Being Dead. The couple, hand in hand, and whose nakedness had subjected them to indignity, terminated their lives in each other's flesh in a manner marked by a placid love that only time can cultivate. The narration, like the love of Joseph and Celice, is utterly unsentimental and business-like, something that is preserved by habit and memory, not necessarily with flaming passion. The dreamy writing accentuates the serene mood of the novel while it de-emphasizes the dramatic deaths and the reckless physical aftermath. The tranquility of the crime scene, the intrepidness with which the lissom grass perked back up after removal of the corpses, the gradual disappearance of rectangle of time-paled grass, the absorption of blood into the soil and the equanimity of their daughter Syl downplay the horrible death but at the same time usurp the promptings of readers' hearts. Being Dead transcends other contemporary works on the subject of death with its meditative, poetic monologue that dwells on life, love, and death. It is a literary treatise on an event, and the event is the death of a renowned zoologist and his wife in the midst of sand dunes at a remote beach. Being Dead is a literary event made possible by the author's naked daring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
roycharlesPA More than 1 year ago
One of the more imaginative books I have read. This will become a part of my permanent library. I discovered Jim Crace through a review of Being Dead in The Financial Times. I recommend this book to thoughtful readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Jim Crace's book, on the surface, is depressing. It is about death, and takes a brutal atheistic perspective. However, it is also about love, and romance, in situations where they should not flourish. The book examines two distinctly unromantic and unattractive people who meet in an unromantic situation, who are incompatible and somewhat unpleasant besides, and stay together into the unromantic period of middle age. They obviously love each other anyway. The couple is killed, and in disgusting detail are described as they rot and are consumed, but maintain a pose of tenderness and love. The world of this book is cynical and pessimistic but the beautiful, hopeful conclusion is this: love is not part of a situation, it transcends situation - love needs nothing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel failed to engage me on every level. It was written with a dryness that was supposed to suggest a deeper meaning, but it never conveyed anything extraordinary. The characters were flat and their relationships over-simplified. The plot, unique in its conception, was clumsily advanced. The novel manages to be boring without rewarding the reader for the effort. It lacked insight and emotional truth, though it pretended to reveal both. The last two words 'Being Dead' are 'being dead.' When I finished reading, I had to groan in disgust. At least it was cheap and short.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read it .... but it was neither entertaining nor uplifting. There is a gloominess that I just couldn't may be fine literature but I can't appreciate it. When there is a violent murder, i want some justice... not ambivelance and decomposition narrative.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being Dead is a love poem without the poetry as it might appear in Scientific American. The detailed description of the decomposition of two bodies was skillfully done, but beyond that success, there is little to be gained from this blessedly short novel. Joseph and Celice are drab, dispassionate people who, if they are, in fact, in love, show scant proof of it in the book. Maybe they were in Crace's imagination, but he failed to transfer that emotion into his characters. Indeed, Celice seems to flat out dislike her husband; it is hard to believe they were married for thirty years, much less subsequently destined to 'enjoy a loving and unconscious end' eternally thereafter. If you don't believe me, ask their daughter, Syl. She was unabashedly happy to see them go and didn't for a minute think of them as two people in love. Joseph and Celice lived and died and decomposed and that is what this book is about and there is nothing more to be harvested from Crace's prose other than his good intentions. Being Dead might have been an eloquent love dirge with another writer's execution. Return to James Joyce's 'The Dead' for an idea of what it's supposed to feel like.