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Being Dead: A Novel by Jim Crace

Being Dead: A Novel (original 1999; edition 2001)

by Jim Crace

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1,282436,122 (3.79)85
Title:Being Dead: A Novel
Authors:Jim Crace
Info:Picador (2001), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:USA, National Book Critics' Circle Award

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Being Dead by Jim Crace (Author) (1999)



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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
I liked this book very much, but if you don't care to read a clinical discussion of what happens to a dead body as it decomposes, you might want to skip this one. If such descriptions don't bother you, I highly recommend this book.

Celice and Joseph, married scientists in their 50's decide to take a sentimental day trip to the beach where they met and fell in love. As the last sentence of the first chapter states, "They paid a heavy price for their nostalgia," for by page 5, they have been brutally murdered in the dunes. Their bodies lay undiscovered, Joseph's hand tenderly grasping Celice's ankle, for days. In alternating chapters we are told the story of their life and given a day-by-day description of what happens to their bodies after death.

This book is beautifully written, and the scientific descriptions of decay meld perfectly with the intellectually curious scientific characters of Joseph and Celice. Here is the poem by Sherwin Stephens, "The Biologist's Valediction to His Wife," which is set forth on the frontispiece of this book:

Don't count on Heaven, or on Hell
You're dead. That's it. Adieu. Farewell.
Eternity awaits? Oh, sure!
It's Putrefaction and Manure
And unrelenting Rot, Rot, Rot,
As you regress, from Zoo. to Bot.
I'll grieve, of course,
Departing wife,
Though Grieving's never
Lengthened Life
Or coaxed a single extra Breath
Out of a Body touched by Death ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 24, 2017 |
I read this years ago, and I just finished rereading it AND it's a perfect book (and quite creepy) for me. ( )
  jphamilton | May 29, 2015 |
When anyone asks me, "What is your favorite book?", I do not hesitate before saying, Being Dead by Jim Crace. It's been my favorite since the moment I finished it years ago.

This is a book with alternating storylines involving the same characters, Joseph and Celice, a married couple who, at the beginning of the book, have gone to visit the same beach where they first made love 30 years earlier and are murdered. Interesting that the main characters die in the beginning? I thought so. And one of the storylines deals with the couple's murder.

The first storyline takes the reader from the murder, through an hour by hour, day by day, journey through what happens to their corpses as the lay on the sand dunes, decaying for several days before being found. Does that seem morbid or uncomfortable? You might think so, but Crace writes it so well that it's simply fascinating.

The second storyline is a backwards history of the couple's life together, starting with the trip to the beach and going backwards through their lives together, and then further back to their childhoods.

The most wonderful thing happens in this novel. These are average, ordinary people and spending so much time contemplating their deaths and the decaying of their bodies might well cause a reader to feel apprehensive or uncomfortable. We're human. We can't help but consider our own deaths and what will someday happen to our bodies while reading this. But, Crace sets up the structure in such a way that there is this wonderful "relief" for the reader. You get a break from the dead bodies decaying, from the murder and the detectives, and you get to read this hopeful story in reverse - a story that gets more youthful and more hopeful as the characters grow younger, so that, by the end of the book, it doesn't feel like Joseph and Celice are dead at all. It feels like they are young and vibrant and have their whole lives ahead of them with no knowledge of what the future holds. It made me realize that part of the joy of youth is that mystery ahead, all the "possibility" that lies before each of us; all the questions and dreams.

This is a fabulous and unique novel and I enjoyed it thoroughly. ( )
  HighCountry | Mar 18, 2015 |
Coming to this book only from his short-listed Booker nominee ‘Harvest’, I was unsure what to expect. Even if I had read more of Crace, I doubt if I could have predicted anything about this book apart from its originality. I’m not talking about the way Crace works his way back wards through time which isn’t that original but of the way he deals with death which is a curious mixture of the scientific and creative if that latter word can b used to describe the way he delineates the body’s disintegration upon dying. It’s also a curiously detached account, the murderer even being called ‘the good mortician’ at one stage, his killing of Cecile and Joseph being in such a seldom frequented place and their bodies being so anonymous with his theft of their possessions that they might be spared the usual rituals of the departed and Joseph, who died touching Celice ‘could hold her leg for good’. Having quoted that at the end of my sentence, I realise how much it contradicts what I said at the start about it being a detached account. Clearly Crace is also showing his sense of humour here. In fact, this humour keeps reappearing. When Syl goes to the mortuary to see if her parents are there, we are given, in Crace’s further exploration of death, a definitive description of what is done to the bodies, four of them being prepared for the final rituals. ‘The fourth one was being beautified: his wounds and half-formed scabs were masked by theatrical cosmetics, panstick and rouge. It wasn’t right to bury him if he was looking dead’. This sort of macabre humour is extended a few pages later when Syl finds out that her parents are dead: ‘her gene suppliers had closed shop’!

Although Crace makes it sees at times like a dispassionate examination of death, peppering the novel with factual or apparently factual details, it seems as if he allows non-scientific beliefs to hold some sway. So, while we get a breakdown of the likely causes of death (‘The heart-attack was suspect number one’), we also have natural explanations from Celice’s ‘The Goatherd’s Ancient Wisdom’ and a seemingly true prediction of bad luck if you hear the baritone voice coming off the sea. with Joseph and Celice paying the price of hearing it all those decades earlier. In Crace’s analysis of death I was reminded at times of McEwan’s ‘Enduring Love’ in the way science and fiction come together.

All this makes it seem as if the novel is simply an examination of a process but that’s just Crace’s juggling of the thematic aspect. The novel amounts to much more than that and, as in ‘Harvest’, it’s Crace’s style of writing which is so captivating as well as his characterisation. This paragraph, I think, well illustrates Crace’s wry originality: ‘So there was Joseph on the morning of his death, flushed already by the early sun and by the prospect of an outing with Celice, looking down along the cotton and the flesh towards the hollows and the beacons of her armpits and her chest, her blemishes, her moles, the rib bones of a woman thin with age, the smell of her – bedclothes and sweat – the smell of breakfast on a tray, her body sliced up by the sun into jagged bands of shade and light.’

Judging by this novel and ‘Harvest’ I’ll really enjoy reading more of Crace’s writing – I can’t think why I hadn’t heard of him earlier. It makes you wonder how many excellent novels you must be missing out on. ( )
  evening | Jan 1, 2014 |
The death of the married couple and the inevitable reclaimation of their bodies by nature were the best parts of this novel. These scenes were so satisfying that I can overlook the awkward chapters dealing with how Joseph and Celice found each other and fell in love. Is it bad that I found Celice's guilty feelings really annoying? ( )
  diovival | Oct 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Yet for all the "experimental" feel that he imparts to his work, the fact is that, to say it again, Crace is working firmly within the mainstream of English fiction, and a good thing that is, for English fiction, at least. A solid yet always adventurous writer, he has done much to revitalize a tradition in danger of becoming moribund.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, John Banville (pay site) (Apr 13, 2000)
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          Oh, sure!
It's Putrefaction and Manure
And unrelenting Rot, Rot, Rot
As you regress, from Zoo. to Bot.
I'll Grieve, of course,
Departing wife,
Though Grieving's never
Lengthened Life
Or coaxed a single extra Breath
Out of a Body touched by Death

'The Biologist's Valediction to his Wife'
from Offcuts by Sherwin Stephens
For Pam Turton
First words
For old times' sake, the doctors of zoology had driven out of town that Tuesday afternoon to make a final visit to the singing salt dunes at Baritone Bay.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
On Baritone Bay, in mid-afternoon, Joseph and Celice, married for almost thirty years, lie murdered in the dunes. The shocking particulars of their passing make up the arc of this courageous and haunting novel. The story of life, mortality, and love, Being Dead confirms Crace's place as one of our most talented, compassionate, and itellectually provocative writers. (on book back)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312275420, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:39 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"A middle-aged couple, Joseph and Celice, are murdered on a remote East Coast sand dune. They are not discovered for six days. Both doctors of zoology, Joseph and Celice would recognize what is happening to their decomposting bodies if they could have watched."--Container.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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