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Arcadia by Jim Crace
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Arcadia (1992)

by Jim Crace

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Brill - almost (but not quite) as good as Harvest, which is the reason I picked this up. The fruit market is the real star of the show here. ( )
  sometimeunderwater | Dec 25, 2015 |
Initially I imagine most readers, like myself, would be puzzled about the setting. On the one hand it seems to be set in some more or less distant past with country folk struggling to make ends meet and then we have mentions of computers and modern technology. I was reminded of the setting in Mal Peet’s ‘Exposure’, some South American country with extremes of wealth and poverty – and sure enough this is what Crace offers as both his background and battleground in this novel.

Although there is not a lot of dialogue and no characters for the reader to side with, Crace’s way with words keeps it vivid and engaging. Although it is set somewhere unspecific, it has a lot of relevance for today with the huge gulf between the haves and havenots. Because the dispossessed are as unattractive as the wealthy and significantly named Victor, Crace could not be accuse of romanticising what he presents us with. We can see both the ugliness and delusion of Victor and the amorality of those like Joseph, a petty thief looking for more scope in the city.

As in Crace’s other novels, it’s his style that is so engaging. I liked the description of what Victor’s five guests thought of when trying to come up with a present for this old man whom they really felt uncomfortable with: ‘They'd had grim fun, these five ageing traders, identifying all those things that can't be bought and which were lost as men got old. Good health. Good looks. Teeth, hair and waists. The pleasures of the bed. Patience. Energy. A fertile place in someone's living heart. Control of wind and bladder. All were gone and way beyond the sway of credit cards’. I also found myself reaching for a dictionary several times such as when I read ‘What would you expect of Rook? That he would decompose without the frigorific regime of the working day?’ And I was then invited to think about what work means to people when Crace spends the next page looking at what work means to people beginning with ‘Most city people – men at least – are wedded to their jobs, and when you take those jobs away they soon become as empty and brittle as blown eggs’. That quotation, in fact, also illustrates Crace’s vividness, that simile encapsulating in such a condensed way how redundant men are hollowed out and vulnerable.

I was surprised some distance into the book to find the first person pronoun popping up its head, briefly identifying itself as a journalist before being largely submerged until the final part of the book which takes on a pronounced first person account. Here Crace has his now ageing narrator give his opinion about society and Victor’s Arcadia with its caged birds fouling the sheets of glass and the market traders now enclosed and cut off. I found this a particularly effective part of the novel, focused as it is on the way the world is turning out. It made me wonder what Crace would have said if he’d been writing this now with climate change also raising issues rather than over two decades ago. I also have no doubt that he wouldn’t have been surprised to hear of the artificial smells introduced into shops these days to encourage shoppers to buy – e.g. masculine scents in Calvin Klein shops – when he describes all the artificiality of fruit and vegetable produce with the traders ‘ready to seduce the passers-by with produce of the gene-bank and the science farm, enhanced by Spray-Dew, Frost-Ban and by packaging. Recessed orange lights warm and flatter every radish, every grape, every hybrid superfruit . . .’. Linking ‘Arcadia’ with ‘arcade’, as he does, draws attention to the way modern man has corrupted the notion of what is fulfilling, replacing the ethereal with the materialistic. I wonder, though, at the end if it’s more Crace directly talking to the reader than his supposed journalist narrator. In other words I think Crace is a little too overt at the end instead of letting the theme emerge more subtly from the narrative. ( )
  evening | Apr 11, 2014 |
This work of fiction by the contemporary English Author, Jim Crace is definitely different. It is set in an unnamed place and is told by an unnamed journalist who tells the story of an aging millionaire’s quest to build a commercial center that will embrace the pastoral idyll. The beginning introduces us to Victor the millionaire and his able assistant Rook. The middle section is the story of Victor’s youth and the last part is the actual story of Victor’s vision and the building of the commercial center known as Arcadia. Arcadia means pastoral. Victor has a distorted vision of the country. He only knows the stories his mother told him as she forced him to nurse as a means to beg. Victor to wants to destroy the greengrocers outdoor market and create a modern structure that will emulate the country. This book is set in modern times but reading parts felt so old fashion. It is too abstract. With words and pictures created by words, the story felt like it was set in a simpler time but no, it is not, it is set in at least the late eighties. You really feel a little adrift without an anchor when you read this book.

Here are some quotes from the book;
"As he had scaled and silvered with old age so his taste for fish had grown."
“Migrated from the world of plants and seasons to the urban universe of make-and-take-and-sell.”
“Revenge is next to lust.”
“My allegiance is to what you want. The tallest building throw the longest shadows. Thus great men make their mark.”
And remember this book was published in 1992, “It can survive the full impact of an intercontinental airliner.” ….” wow, I really had to pause when I read that line.

This is not Crace’s best work but I suspect it was chosen for 1001 for its peculiarities. The characters are not people you feel attached to, in fact they are all pretty wanting.
Victor is socially inept man who lived on mother’s milk till he was six. Rook is a crook, aptly named after the bird. Some have said that the characters really are the communities. This could be any town, any place. It just feels so ambiguous. Arcadia is defined as poetic fantasy, represents pastoral paradise. Home of Pan. Crace's theme, according to Publisher’s Weekly, is the way cities corrupt men. And this by Library Journal; “More an extended prose poem than a novel, Arcadia reworks traditional pastoral imagery to subvert the dichotomy of town and country. Although countless passages of lush description beg to be read aloud, the overall effect of Crace's aggressive lyricism is somewhat numbing.” ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 13, 2012 |
I couldn't put this down; very well written novel with a countryside vs city theme running through it.
In the city the countryside is symbolised by the market, with the produce on sale from the countryside around the city. Gardens also feature in the novel. People leave the countryside to go to the city, never the other way round. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 18, 2010 |
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The tallest buildings throw the longest Shadows (thus Great Men make their Mark by blocking out the Sun, and, seeking Warmth themselves, cast Cold upon the rest) - Emile Dell'ova, Truismes, Editions Baratin, Paris (1774)
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No wonder Victor never fell in love.
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Focusing on the one area of vitality and chaos that remains in the streets below him, he formulates a plan to leave a mark on the city - one as indelible and disruptive as the mark the city left on him. ?A deeply satisfying read, in which each well-turned phrase resounds in every finely tuned sentence? Mail on Sunday ?Presents his heavily politicised vision at its most ambitious and also at its most Ballard-like? Irish Times ?One of the most beautifully written books in years? Sunday Telegraph.… (more)

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