Blasts from the Past: Being Dead by Jim Crace (1999)

Cover imageThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.

I remember someone looking over my shoulder when I was reading Being Dead on my way home from a meeting just before it was published. Of course, I didn’t mind – I’ve done that as discreetly as I can often enough – but I imagine they may have been a little taken aback. Jim Crace’s beautifully expressed novella tells the story of two corpses on a beach while describing the process of their decay in forensic detail.

On a lovely afternoon a couple lies dead on a beach, their bodies bloody and battered. They have been married for almost thirty years and even in the throes of a violent death they appear devoted, Joseph’s hand curved around Celice’s shin. In acknowledgement of their death, Crace tells us that Being Dead is to be a ‘quivering’, a retelling of their lives in accordance with an ancient custom. So begins the narrative of Joseph and Celice’s life from their first meeting on that same beach, where they made love so many years ago, to their brutal murders. Woven into their story are descriptions of what happens to their bodies as they lie undiscovered for six days. Written in language that is graphic yet poetic, Crace’s novel makes the unbearable and the inevitable something we can look in the face.

Crace came in for a bit of a bashing for the inaccuracy of some of his descriptions, not to mention the lack of evidence for his ‘ancient custom’, for which he had some handy rebuttals, telling his critics that they were based on his observations of animal decomposition when he was out walking. Very polite. He could simply have said ‘it’s fiction’.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

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8 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: Being Dead by Jim Crace (1999)”

  1. I’ve only read one book by this author, but I liked it a lot. Your comments on his prose definitely chime with my impressions of Harvest, another novel that tackles powerful subjects in a spare, poetic style.

  2. I’ve been meaning to read Jim Crace ever since I read about Harvest when it came out. I’ll probably start with that one, or with Arcadia, as they are in my local library, but the concept of Being Dead does sound intriguing.

  3. This is a Crace I haven’t read – but is in my bookcase, so I’m glad it’s a good one. Loved Arcadia, but read it so long ago I need to revisit it. Harvest too. Was Quarantine his Jesus book? That’s the one I didn’t get with.

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