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The Pesthouse Hardcover – May 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this postapocalyptic picaresque from Whitbread-winner Crace (for Quarantine), America has regressed to medieval conditions. After a forgotten eco-reaction in the distant past, the U.S. government, economy and society have collapsed. The illiterate inhabitants ride horses, fight with bows and swords and scratch a meager living from farming and fishing. But with crop yields and fish runs mysteriously dwindling, most are trekking to the Atlantic coast to take ships to the promised land of Europe, gawking along the way at the ruins of freeways and machinery yards, which seem the wasteful excesses of giants. Heading east, naïve farm boy Franklin teams up with Margaret, a recovering victim of the mysterious "flux" whose shaven head (mark of the unclean) causes passersby to shun her. Their love blossoms amid misadventures in an anarchic landscape: Franklin is abducted by slave-traders; Margaret falls in with a religious sect that bans metal and deplores manual labor, symbolically repudiating America's traditional cult of progress, technology and industriousness (masculinity takes some hits, too). Crace's ninth novel leaves the U.S. impoverished, backward, fearful and abandoned by history. Less crushing than Cormac McCarthy's The Road and less over-the-top than Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown (to name two recent postapocalyptos), Crace's fable is an engrossing, if not completely convincing, outline of the shape of things to come. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Most critics compared The Pesthouse to Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize?winning The Road (****1/2 Nov/Dec 2006). While The Pesthouse is equally devastating in its postapocalyptic vision, the novel, less spare in its sensory descriptions, contains a mordant wit and rounded female characters. Jim Crace, the author of eight previous novels (including the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award?winning Being Dead), compellingly chronicles a reverse migration and abandoned moral codes while raising important questions about self-preservation, industrial expansion, and our responsibility toward others. A few quibbles: some critics cited stereotypical characters, and others noted that while compelling, Crace's subject matter has been covered in better novels.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520751
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,479,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

If you like Cormac McCarthy, you will.
Owen Brown
The subject might be grim for some, but I found the characters well rounded, the plot tight and believable, and the writing pithy and engaging.
Crace makes an attempt to develop the characters, and somewhat of a love story but there is not enough emotion and everything seems half-baked.
Kevin Hoag

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
America the Beautiful in ruins, there are no cities, no skyscrapers in what has become a distinctly medieval landscape, travelers on foot and with laden carts, horses and donkeys replacing the frantic cacophony of a world reduced to the basic elements of survival. Knives, bows and arrows have replaced the stuttering menace of assault weapons, the steady roar of jets extinguished. Now weary folk trek eastward, toward the ocean where they hope to cross to Europe. Followed only by disease and want, superstition takes the place of science, the land demanding payment for its generosity, farmers valuable for their knowledge of the soil. In Ferrytown, the needs of travelers have bestowed a constant source of income for those industrious enough to build their town around ferrying and hostelry. Pestilence visits Ferrytown intermittently, the only recent victim thirty-year-old Margaret, whose own father died from the flux that now excoriates her every breath. Left to recover, or not, in the small, removed hut of the pesthouse, Margaret slumbers, fevered.

Brothers Franklin and Jackson Lopez have left their home in the west at the behest of their widowed mother. The brothers are notable for their size, seen as giants compared to other men, their muscles and brawn valuable barter along the way. When Franklin's aching knee will no longer support their journey without rest, Jackson goes ahead to Ferrytown, where he finds respite and sustenance for the night. But fate has other plans for Ferrytown, a great looming upheaval of natural confluences. Meanwhile, discovering the ailing woman in the pesthouse, Franklin shelters with her, the two forging an unexpected alliance; together they will travel across a barren, mud-slogged landscape, the rich natural resources of the old America long extinct.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Patrick on May 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This was my first exposure to Mr. Crace's work, and I was a bit disappointed. This dystopian novel follows the fortunes of two people, Franklin and Margaret, who are thrown together against fate in an America apparently devastated by pollution and war, a land where everyone is either slogging their way eastward across the ravaged land to seek ocean passage to Europe, or preying upon the would-be emigrants. While there were a few inventive takes on post-cataclysmic America, I found the story's development to be slow, the writing sometimes tedious, the dissertations on the characters' thinking in various situations way too wordy, and the lapses in logic often implausible. As reviewer Francine Prose wrote of Franklin and Margaret in a NY Times review, "I hoped things would work out for them, but I didn't much need to know." Given the author's reputation, I hung in there even though this was an easy book to set aside. At the end of it all, I felt it was rather a poor investment of my time.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Cipriano on August 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I will skip all introductory preamble and move straight on to several opinionated statements ? The Pesthouse, by Jim Crace, is an absolutely superb novel. Best I've read in a long time!
I loved it. I savoured, yet devoured it.
I didn't want it to end, yet raced my way to its last page and I must conclude that anyone who thinks it worthy of less than five stars out of five is no friend of mine!
There. With that out of the way...

In this, the first novel by Crace I have ever read, post-apocalyptic America has been so long destroyed by some sort of un-named ecological disaster that the surviving population has reverted to a frontier, pioneering manner of life.
Gone [and seemingly long-forgotten] is the age [our own] of automation and electricity. No cars or planes, no big buildings or mass communication.
It is an America in shut-down mode, where a donkey is an extravagance.
It is an inversion of the American Dream, a reversal of Manifest Destiny, and nearly a return to the Dark Ages.
However, civilization's demise is not global, or so the inhabitants of Crace's America [and we readers] are led to believe. Legend has it that across the sea, in Europe, things are not so bad. Whatever has happened to America has not happened there. Europe is the new Promised Land, and hopeful Americans become pilgrims, making their way east where they believe they will board ships that will ferry them to their prosperous future.

Toward this utopia, the Lopez brothers, Franklin and Jackson, are making their way.
At a crucial point just outside Ferrytown, Franklin cannot go on, due to his bum knee. [Man, I could really relate to this guy, having a rickety knee myself!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Always Reading on June 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I started this novel with a growing excitement over the delicious way this man uses words. I was tired of the entire thing, and speed-reading parts of it, by chapter four.

Crace is a masterful wordsmith (parts of this book should be read aloud, just to enjoy the poetic flow of language), but the truth is that his oblique style and his sheer wordiness made me irritable after a bit. "Get on with it," is what I wanted to tell the author. "And your point is?" (As for the "plain prose" the Washington Post Book World reviewer mentions above, I beg to differ. This is prose manipulated and woven *around* the events it describes.)

In fiction writing, the art lies as much in the leaving out as the leaving in. This certainly doesn't preclude wordiness (think of Faulkner -- wordy, yet leaving you wanting more), but I think that Crace fell in love with his own voice in The Pesthouse. Furthermore, the plot is not interesting enough to look past the author's overbearing voice. The reader is never drawn into the story.

The first three or four pages (heck, the first chapter!) can be summed up in one sentence: a landslide fell into a stagnant lake and raised a gas cloud that killed people and livestock. That's fine for a chapter, but the whole novel is like that. I can't recommend this book, but have given it three stars anyway because Crace is truly an artful writer.
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