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Quarantine: A Novel Paperback – March 15, 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The story of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness is surely among the most celebrated and widely diffused narratives in Western culture. Why, then, would Jim Crace choose to retell it in strictly naturalistic, non-miraculous terms? The obvious answer would be that the godless novelist is trying to debunk divinity--to take the entire New Testament down a notch. And at first, this does seem to be the case. Crace's Jesus first got religion as an adolescent, and "was transformed by god like other boys his age were changed by girls." His peers view his spiritual fervor as a youthful eccentricity. Even now, as the thirtysomething Jesus heads out to the Judean desert for his 40-day retreat, he's perceived by his fellow anchorites as a flighty and impractical Galilean. They even call him "Gally" for short--and what sort of deity answers to a nickname?

Yet Crace is hardly the jeering materialist we might expect. As Jesus takes to his cliff-top cave, the author renders his religious transports without a hint of irony, and with a linguistic elegance that can hardly be called disrespectful: "The prayers were in command of him. He shouted out across the valley, happy with the noise he made. The common words lost hold of sound. The consonants collapsed. He called on god to join him in the cave with all the noises that his lips could make. He called with all the voices in his throat." And while most of the temptations of Christ are visited upon him by humans--by the motley crew of his cave-dwelling neighbors--he resists them with what we can only call superhuman will. Quarantine does, of course, operate on a fairly realistic plane. Jesus dies of starvation long before his 40-day fast is complete, and his fellow retreatants, who take center stage throughout much of the novel, are much too confused and brutal ever to figure in any Sunday school pageant. Still, Crace leaves at least the possibility of resurrection intact at the end, which should ensure that his brilliant book will rattle both believers and non-believers alike. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This extraordinary novel, a sometimes realistic, sometimes hallucinatory account of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, is the latest by England's Crace, a writer of great gifts (The Gift of Stones, Continent), and was reportedly the runner-up to The God of Small Things for the Booker prize. It is a remarkably successful attempt to put a story known by everyone into a convincing physical and historical context. The beauty and precision of Crace's writing, as well as his store of knowledge about such arcane matters as weaving two millennia ago and the fauna of the Judean desert, give what could have been a fey experiment an air of overwhelming authority. For a start, Jesus, portrayed as a rather callow youth befuddled by prayer, is not at the center of the canvas. That spot belongs to Musa, a stout, lecherous, bullying merchant with a beguiling tongue, whose skinny and long-suffering wife, Miri, has left him for dead in his tent as the story begins. Then, Jesus is not the only pilgrim essaying a fast in the desert. Setting about their vigils in their very different ways are Shim, a handsome, self-absorbed ascetic; Marta, a prosperous but barren woman who yearns to conceive; Aphas, an elderly Jew with cancer; and a dumb, wiry peasant. After Jesus seems to bring Musa back to life (he is obsessed with the idea of being a healer), the merchant comes to dominate the group, using his salesman's skills to convince them that he is their landlord and they owe him tribute. Only the thought of Jesus, who hides from the rest in his inaccessible cave, gives him pause. As for Jesus himself, can Musa be the devil sent to tempt him? The ways in which Crace has the six desert dwellers interrelate with each other and with Jesus are spellbinding; the book is a superbly crafted combination of historical and inspirational fiction that is genuinely unique. Rights: David Godwin Assoc.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312199511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312199517
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Jim Crace is one of the finest writers working in English today--each of his rather brief books manages to fashion vivid, tangible worlds in the sparest, most succint prose. Aside from his most recent work, the miraculous "Being Dead", this is his best effort, a hallucinatory trip to the wind-swept, barren wilderness of ancient Palestine. Though each of the seven human characters here is compelling and fully developed in his or her own right, it is the landscape--bleak, timeless, deadly--that is the star of this show. Crace has so fully researched and imagined this place that we come away feeling as if we, too, have been there, suffered through a most grueling and unusual quarantine that begins and ends with a miracle and is rife with dangers--seen and unseen--throughout. Much has been made of the portrayal of Jesus here. To be sure, this is not the sort of book that fundamenalist Christians will be clambering to buy. What we get is a young, naive, incredibly obstinate man who suffers unnecessarily (or so it seems), dies a gruesome death and then, in the book's final, deeply unsettling pages, walks away from the desert, even as his husk of a body lies in a tomb. What exactly is going on here? It's hard to tell--Crace is not a big one on spelling things out for the reader--but one can draw the conclusion that Jesus had to die in the desert both spiritually (as in the Gospels) AND physically before he could begin his mission. There are serious implications for theologians in all of this, but this general reader was more haunted by the imagery than troubled by Crace's unorthodox and truly weird tampering with tradition.Read more ›
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By A Customer on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Quarantine" presents the story of a group of people who are changed by their experiences in the harsh desert of the Middle East. Fascinating from a historical and religious standpoint, this novel succeeds in creating a cast of unique characters and infusing the story with a compelling, complicated group dynamic. While Jesus is not the main character, his deep conflict and physical struggles are fascinating, as is his final transformation from child prophet into the son of God. Still, he is just one of a number of truly compelling characters which make up the heart and soul of this novel. The conclusion is wonderful. Each of the characters is (in one way or another) freed from the troubles that have haunted them, and their journey continues in another direction. This is a slow book, but it is definitely worth reading.
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Format: Paperback
Although Jesus is not the main character in 'Quarantine', his presence imbues the narrative and propels, in a subtle yet powerful way, the actions of all the other characters in the novel. His presence, however, is all too human, and his so-called temptations are mostly the product of his fertile religious fantasizing and more prosaic causes. 'Quarantine' thus provides a different and original perspective on Jesus in the desert, one that is thoroughly believable and enjoyble because of the ironies involved.
To me, the truly commanding figure in 'Quarantine' is Musa, an unscrupulous merchant with a twisted Midas touch. His abusiveness, greediness, and manipulations let the other characters--his submissive wife, an ailing Jewish old man, an arrogant Greek is search of enlightment, a barren woman in search of fertily, and a simpleton--manifest themselves in their hopes and disappointments. Moreover, he is the one who, in his own obsession (a product of a serendipitous act), constantly tempts Jesus with comfort and food. In other words, Musa is the necessary evil through which the lives of the other characters, and the 'holiness' of Jesus, acquire meaning.
The language of the entire novel is superb and effortless, giving a sense of fluidity that at times hides the intricacies of the interactions among the characters and their inner life. The desert is also beautifully described, in all its barrenness and cruelty. I have rarely encountered such compelling language in other novels, and I absolutely enjoyed it.
'Quarantine', in short, is an interesting novel to read. It leaves the reader thinking about the moral issues raised for a long time, making him or her go back to re-read certain passages. I thoroughly recommend it. I'm sure that it would generate a wealth of fruitful ideas for debate on the meaning and nature of the religious experience.
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Format: Paperback
What to make of this book? Crace knows the story of Jesus is so well known as to be almost sacrosanct. To take a brief 40 days from that story and develop them into a full blown novel is risky enough. But it's Crace's decision to defy expectations and change the outcome that makes this novel so ultimately haunting. The cruel indifference of the desert scrub provides the backdrop for Crace's ragged band of misfits. Five pilgrims come to the wilderness in search of personal solace, only to be exploited and manipulated by an avaricious merchant Musa. Four succumb. Only the fifth, the mysterious, self-doubting and apparently hallucinating Jesus, remains alone and apart. It is this very isolationism that irritates and intrigues Musa, who apparently owes his life to a brief visit from Jesus as the merchant lay abandoned and dying of fever. A devious, calculating and, yes, even devilish Musa won't rest until he can tempt the young "Gally" from his key-hole cave and coax him into revealing the secrets of his healing powers. Despite his refusal to have anything to do with his desert neighbours, Jesus comes to have a profound effect on all their lives. They leave the harsh hills changed, while the man most responsible for that change remains. There are many biblical allusions: the empty grave, the miraculous waters, the daily temptations, the stones to bread, the double resurrection, even the names of the women who minister to Jesus: Marta and Miri. It is difficult not to seek some profound and underlying message from Crace's simple and poetically written novel. The enigmatic ending is especially haunting, almost giving the book the feel of some ungraspable riddle. But ultimately any search for symbolism would likely diminish the beauty of the language and Crace's meditation on the mystery of God in a relentless landscape.
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