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Being Dead: A Novel Paperback – March 21, 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 148 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Penzler Pick, June 2000: It begins with a murder. Celice and Joseph, in their mid-50s and married for more than 30 years, are returning to the seacoast where they met as students. They are reliving their first amorous encounter in the sand dunes when they are set upon by the murderer who beats them to death with a rock and steals their watches, their jewelry, and even their meager lunch. From that moment forward, this remarkably written book by Jim Crace becomes less about murder and more about death. Alternating chapters move back in time from the murder in hourly and two-hourly increments. As the narrative moves backward, we see Celice and Joseph make the small decisions about their day that will lead them inexorably towards their own deaths. Eventually we learn about their first meeting, and that this is not the first time tragedy has struck them in this idyllic setting.

In other chapters the narrative moves forward. Celice and Joseph are on vacation and nobody misses them until they do not return. Thus, it is six days before their bodies are found. Crace describes in minute detail their gradual return to the land with the help of crabs, birds, and the numerous insects that attack the body and gently and not so gently prepare it for the dust-to-dust phase of death. Celice and Joseph would have been delighted with the description: she was a zoologist and he was an oceanographer, and they spent their lives with their eyes to the microscope, observing the phenomena of life and death. Some readers might find this gruesome, but the facts of death are told in such glorious prose that these descriptions in no way detract from the enjoyment of the book.

After her parents do not return home, their daughter, Syl, must search the morgues and follow up John and Jane Doe reports until she is finally asked to make an identification of the remains in the dunes. We then discover that the reader has had a more intimate relationship with them in death than Syl ever had with them in life. This small gem of a book, not really a mystery in the usual sense, will stay with you long after you finish. --Otto Penzler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Crace is a brilliant British writer whose novels are always varied in historical setting, voice, theme and writing style, and are surprising in content. Those very factors may have contributed to his failure to establish a literary identity and to attain his deserved audience here. This latest, sixth effort (after Quarantine), a stunning look at two people at the moment of their deaths, is the riskiest of his works, the most mesmerizing and the most deeply felt. Joseph and Celice, middle-aged doctors of zoology married to each other for almost 30 years, revisit the seaside where they first met and made love "in the singing salt dunes of Baritone Bay." They are surprised on the dunes, murdered and robbed, and their bodies lie undiscovered for days. In alternating chapters of chronological counterpoint, Crace traces their last day, working backwards from the moment of their murders to their awakening that morning, innocent of what is to come. At the same time, he recreates the day they were introduced, in the 1970s, when they were researching their doctoral dissertations. By the time these chronological vignettes converge, Crace has created two distinctive personalities who sustain a marriage and careers and parent a rebellious, nihilistic daughter, Syl. His finesse in drawing character is matched by the depth of his knowledge and imagination, and the honesty of his bleak vision. Some readers may be horrified by the brutal imagery ("Her scalp hung open like a fish's mouth. The white roots at her crown were stoplight red") or the matter-of-fact details of the body's putrefaction: the first predators "in the wet and ragged centres of their wounds" are a beetle, swag flies, crabs and a gull, and their activities in each corpse are described with detached scientific accuracy. The profession of the deceased, of course, adds irony to the situation. Celice taught that the natural sciences are the study of violence and death, while Joseph maintained that "humankind is only marginal. We hardly count in the natural orders of zoology." In juxtaposing the remorselessness of nature against the hopes, desires and conflicted emotions of individuals, Crace gracefully integrates the facts and myths about the end of human life, and its transcendence (in Syl's epiphanic vision), into a narrative of dazzling virtuosity. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (March 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312275420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312275426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jim Crace is an extravagantly gifted writer and Being Dead is a rare interweaving of writerly panache and common human emotion; an extravagantly beautiful book about a subject that some find horrifying.
As the novel opens, two middle-aged zoologists, Jospeh and Celice, in a nostalgic mood, return to the very strip of beach where they first made love more than thirty years before. Nostalgia, though, at least in Being Dead, comes with a very high price. It gives nothing of the plot away to say that this couple are brutally and senselessly murdered on this strip of beach by a psychopathic thief. Their deaths come at the beginning of the book and are the very incident upon which all others turn.
As Jospeh's and Celice's half-naked bodies lie undiscovered in the dunes for days, Crace describes the process of their corruption and dissolution and, in alternating chapters, the story of how they met, fell in love and first made love on that morning now so long ago. Later chapters introduce one further character: the couple's daughter, Syl, a lost child in more ways than one. The death of Joseph and Celice, in some ways, marks the beginning of Syl's life.
The book seems to be reviving the age-old practice of "quivering" the dead in which guests stand around the dead one's home and bed, making strange noises and shaking "quiver sticks" until the entire house rattles "as if a thousand crows were pecking at the roof." As they "quivered," the guests would reminisce about the dead until, "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 hour-glass of Celice and Jospeh's life together and let the sands reverse.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Being Dead" somehow illuminates Being Alive. Jim Crace has given us a thoroughly engrossing, touching, spirit-expanding eulogy on the presence of death as a part of life. Early in this extraordinary little book he states "It's only those who glimpse the awful, endless corridor of death, too gross to contemplate, that need to lose themselves in love or art." He then proceeds to light that corridor for our examination, cell by decomposing cell, of the thing we try the hardest to avoid: death. This is not a macabre book, a sensationalist view of things morbid: with great grace and love the author invites us to explore the transcience of our corporal time on earth and in doing so he encourages the celebration of all things that life could be. If his characters appear as ordinary beings (if ordinary means two people who have explored the highs and lows of love, of procreation, of guilt, of grief, of dissappointment, of intimacy with the earth as only a zoologist can understand), then he has managed to touch us all, allowing us to identify with the inevitable confrontation with dying. This is a brilliantly conceived and written book- one of the most uniquely satisfying I have read. This is a map of our lives, our mortality, our spiritual quest untended/aborted. Food for thought and for sharing and for treasuring.
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Format: Hardcover
"Being Dead" is a remarkable novel by a remarkable author. Jim Crace turned pulp-fictionism upside down and proved that it is possible to be disillusioned about humanity and the wonders of the human mind without becoming a mere cynic. When Bret Easton Ellis wrote "American Psycho" he created a genre, but he also indicated the direction into which this genre would commercially drift away and lose its strength. Concentrating on Patrick Bateman - the cold, cynic killer - he made the genre attractive for voyeurists. Jim Crace does something different. He tells the story of Joseph and Celine, a couple of middle-aged zoologists, who are cruelly killed on a sunny afternoon at Baritone Bay. The killer, however, disappears from the stage as soon as he has fulfilled his basic and rudimentary task of slaughtering the couple. From then on Craze remains with the dead and their daughter. His writing is the work of an analyst: carrying out a post-mortem. He finds lots of things that are ridiculous about humans, and the "wonder of life" leaves hardly any space for deifying humanity. But dignity remains. And it posts a powerful stop to the final attempt at simply equating wounds and death and the frailty of life with vulnerability.
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By A Customer on December 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I just finished this book this afternoon, and I have to say that it truly astonished me. It is a testament to Mr. Crace's abilities as a writer that in crystalline prose with a flawlessly controlled, impassive tone he can generate such an intense and involving humanity in the two central characters. Many novels have four times as many words, yet they cannot succeed in making a reader care one eighth as much. That he avoids even a trace of sentimentality further elevates the novel and saves it from being in any way maudlin.
Through the use of three carefully constructed and effective narratives, Mr. Crace deals with the physical reality of death, the way that death exists in a continuum with life lived, and the impact on those left behind. In the end, the reader has a stunningly complete and rich picture of the main characters and how their doubts, loves, griefs, successes, losses, and uncertainties have shaped their lives and, in combination with something as simple as a beautiful day, led them to be where they are at the novel's beginning.
Overall, a stunning piece of work, one of the most moving and thought provoking that I have read in quite some time. It offers proof of Kierkegaard's notion that life, while it must be lived forward, can only be understood in reverse.
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