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The Pesthouse by Jim Crace

The Pesthouse

by Jim Crace

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7573612,258 (3.51)77
  1. 20
    The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (47degreesnorth, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    47degreesnorth: More literary and more detailed characters. Post-apocalyptic.
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Spare prose and unexpectedly moving romances characterize these post-apocalyptic novels, set in bleak futures in which humanity has been decimated by horrible diseases.
  2. 10
    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (urania1)
    urania1: If you enjoy dystopian fiction or long for "literary" science fiction, read this book. It deals with the big questions, namely can people retain their humanity in dehumanizing conditions?

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Interesting story, and the writing was excellent. The story begins in an unfamiliar America that seems to have regressed to a pre-industrialized age. Two brothers head east toward the ocean, where there are ships that take people to Europe, supposedly where living conditions are much better. At the beginning of this book they arrive in Ferrytown, which serves as a crossroads for people heading to the ships. The younger brother Franklin has injured himself, and it is decided he will stay on the hill outside the town while older brother Jackson heads to town to obtain supplies and arrange passage across the river. In the morning when Jackson has not returned, Franklin heads to town to search for him, only to find all the people and animals in it have mysteriously died in the night. Presuming his brother dead, Franklin befriends the only other survivor of the town, a woman who was banished to a sick house high over the town to either recover from her illness or die. The two decide to travel to the ships together, and so begins their adventure. Although this story was dark, it was not depressing and had a hopeful ending. And there was something intriguing about reading a story where you had no idea what was around the next bend of the road. ( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
The pesthouse is Jim Crace's seventh novel, published in 2007. It is another novel, among many, of a distopian future, in which people are desperate to leave the United States. The books contains many story elements from similar novels in the genre, and immediately calls Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road to mind. However, The pesthouse is not as horrific and offers more of an idyll.

In fact, the realization that the novel is set in the future comes very late in the book, as the hatred of iron cannot be otherwise explained. The pesthouse is very well-written, and particularly the first chapter, ominous and dark, is extremely well conceived and executed. It is borne of a magnificent idea, and perfectly executed, and seems to be a core element in the work of Crace in its dark pondering of death. Subsequent chapters are also extremely well-written, and th novel as a whole is very enjoyable to read.

It seems a bit odd that such a distopian novel about America is written by a British author, and at a deeper level this does seem significant. Unlike The Road, The pesthouse is not all bleak and pessimistic. Various story elements seem to draw on the typical American experience, such as the frontier exerpience, aptly reversed in people trekking to the East, in almost equal circumstances as the famous expansion to the West. The religious sekt which harbours and shelters refugees like an ark, and the procedures to come on board are about as strict as boarding an airplane to the US in our own days. Finally, refugees leaving the shores in ships to Europe is another odd reversal of the actual history of the United States.

Various parts of the novel are convincing and interesting to read. Perhaps among the distopian novels, The pesthouse is the most beautiful and ultimately the most optimistic, as the novel opens a vista to some form of hope, albeit feeble. The novel does not disclose what disaster caused the country to fall back into a much more primitive stage of civilization, but, as in the episode of Margaret's stay in the pesthouse, the novel seems to suggest that a prolonged period of waiting and patience may bring better times to the continent, the pesthouse of the title becoming a metaphor for the future of America.

The pesthouse is very well-written, and presents a beautiful story in very dire circumstances. ( )
  edwinbcn | Apr 24, 2016 |
If I were to arrange my books thematically, this one would slip alongside Frazier’s ‘Cold Mountain’, McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ and Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath', picaresque novels as all three are and sharing an ever-present sense of danger from the troubled times in which they’re set. The embryonic romance between Margaret and Franklin perhaps mirrors that between Frazier’s Ada and Inman but the futuristic post-cataclysmic trek matches McCarthy’s novel with this one of Crace.

Unlike the hopelessness of the father and son’s situation in ‘The Road’, the reader is allowed some hope in ‘The Pesthouse’, although the reunion between Margaret and Franklin two-thirds of the way through the novel made me feel that there were too many pages left to avoid things going seriously awry again. In fact at this stage in the book I was anxious to get to the end but didn’t really want to read on with so much overhanging the outcome. I preferred the opening. Even though Crace wipes out a whole village with a flood, he allows the reader to focus on the survivors – and of course survival stories are always attractive.

Where this one differs from the other three is in how sentimental it is. While I guess most readers want happy endings, it’s those where both close relationships are celebrated and life’s inevitabilities are faced that affect us more and stay with the reader longer. While the half dozen or so of Crace’s books that I’ve read are all very different, a tribute to the power of his imagination, I don’t think any are as sentimental as this one – which leaves me wondering why he chose this view of life. I think the understated closeness and questioning of father and son in McCarthy's novel shows how powerful it can be to infer rather than describe strong emotions. Margaret's pet-name for Franklin ('Pigeon'), his shortening of her name ('Mags') and then the mare even getting a name ('Swim') just overdoes it, however realistic is this penchant in most of us for sentimentality in our lives. Nonetheless, it’s once again Crace's ability to conjure up a world apart but parallel to our own that is effective and perhaps he needed to write this book in order to pare it down later in his rightly acclaimed 'Harvest'. ( )
  evening | Mar 16, 2014 |
To be fair, this has the potential to get better. But I opted to stop reading. There are too many books.

How many books have I started and failed to finish in the last 5 years? 3. It's not terrible to be on that list (the others are highly respected), but this one... meh. It's not even awful, it's just dull. 60 pages in, I though to myself, you know what? "I could be reading The Road. I could be watching the Walking Dead. I might go do one of those things." And that was it for the pesthouse, its ineffectually 'poetic' language, its two dimensional characters, and its s......................l..........................o.............................................w tempo. I say that as someone who loves Henry James. Slow can be good. But not here. ( )
2 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Very Cormac McCarthy-esque. His prose is spare but with great intent. Although not as crushingly depressing as The Road, the book nonetheless filled me with sadness and longing, which was likely the point of this fictional tale of post-apocalyptic America. ( )
  keithkv | Oct 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Crace revels in putting his protagonists in rough spots and watching their survival instincts take over.
Where Crace’s first, Calvino-inspired novel, “Continent,” conjured an imaginary continent through the sheer poetry of language, “The Pesthouse” is blandly and perfunctorily narrated, as if in the debased speech of Dogpatch . . .

The book’s droll, mock-tall-tale tone soon grates: it isn’t clear whether Crace wants us to feel sympathy for his characters or laugh at them as fools who have brought their collective doom upon themselves.
So it wasn’t any affront to my delicate, jingoistic sensibilities that kept making me put down “The Pesthouse.” Days would pass before I picked it up again to learn Pigeon and Mags’s fate. I hoped things would work out for them, but I didn’t much need to know.
The Pesthouse finds the author not just on his own best form, but arguably on the best form any English writer has shown in the last couple of years.
added by MikeBriggs | editThe Spectator, Simon Baker (Mar 15, 2007)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385520751, Hardcover)

Jim Crace is a writer of spectacular originality and a command of language that moves a reader effortlessly into the world of his imagination. In The Pesthouse he imagines an America of the future where a man and a woman trek across a devastated and dangerous landscape, finding strength in each other and an unexpected love.

Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a lawless, scantly populated wasteland. The machines have stopped. The government has collapsed. Farmlands lie fallow and the soil is contaminated by toxins. Across the country, families have packed up their belongings to travel eastward toward the one hope left: passage on a ship to Europe.

Franklin Lopez and his brother, Jackson, are only days away from the ocean when Franklin, nearly crippled by an inflamed knee, is forced to stop. In the woods near his temporary refuge, Franklin comes upon an isolated stone building. Inside he finds Margaret, a woman with a deadly infection and confined to the Pesthouse to sweat out her fever. Tentatively, the two join forces and make their way through the ruins of old America. Confronted by bandits rounding up men for slavery, finding refuge in the Ark, a religious community that makes bizarre demands on those they shelter, Franklin and Margaret find their wariness of each other replaced by deep trust and an intimacy neither one has ever experienced before.

The Pesthouse is Jim Crace’s most compelling novel to date. Rich in its understanding of America’s history and ethos, it is a paean to the human spirit.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:30 -0400)

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This story is about America two hundred years in the future, a future without technology.

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