June 14, 2012 by Reader's Connection
Two middle-aged zoologists are murdered in the sand dunes by the sea. Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead describes how their bodies are feasted upon by insects and crabs and gulls–no, please, keep reading–but also lopes into the past. We witness the first meeting and first lovemaking of Celice and Joseph, thirty years earlier, and we’re on hand as their estranged daughter Syl feels confusion and resentment and the beginnings of fear when she learns they’ve gone missing.
I should warn you that this isn’t an inspirational book in the ordinary sense–if I had one complaint about Crace’s wonderful prose, I would say that the There is no afterlife pronouncements are sometimes a bit florid–but after reading about these deaths, I’m inspired by the fact that I’m alive. And I’m amused when I catch myself running through my little plans for the day.
It also isn’t a romance, despite the time spent on this couple’s love, because it isn’t the sort of love that solves all other problems and brings the book to a comforting close. Nor is the book a murder mystery. We meet the murderer early on, and learn as much about him as we need to; and then he goes away. All our attention is focused on Celice and Joseph, in their youth and after their deaths, and on their daughter.
You’re probably assuming that it’s a “realistic novel,” but you need to know that both sprayhoppers, seaside insects that play a pivotal role in our couple’s love life, and swag flies, who dine on their corpses, were invented by the author. Was he cheating?
Let’s just call it a Jim Crace novel. I loved it.