Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Pesthouse by Jim Crace

Title: The Pesthouse
Author: Jim Crace
ISBN: 9780385520751, Doubleday, 2007
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: B
Source: Paperback Swap

First Line: Everybody died at night.

In the fishing village along the riverbank-- a place called Ferrytown that likes to charge exorbitant fees to any stranger traveling through-- Margaret is showing definite signs of sickness. Her head is shaved, and she is taken to a small stone cottage where she is left to recover... or to die. She is found by a young man named Franklin, and together they begin a long journey through an America laid waste by this disease they call the flux. Margaret and Franklin will be traveling through an America reduced to medieval methods of living where everyone hopes to make it to the East Coast to pay for passage on a ship bound for Europe-- the Promised Land. The couple will have many adventures along the way.

Crace swiftly sets the tone of his book and makes his readers uneasy in the prologue: "This used to be America, this river crossing in the ten-month stretch of land, this sea-to-sea. It used to be the safest place on earth." Franklin is young and impulsive, which soon leads to trouble. Margaret is older and used to staying beneath the radar. She is the more observant and adaptable one. As they pass the rusted-out hulks of factories and the weed-choked arteries of disused highways, Crace leads us further and further away from our traditional American values of progress, technology and industriousness.

It is an engrossing journey, but one that I never completely believed. Although I liked the characters of Margaret and Franklin, and I found Crace's view of an America forgotten by history to be quite interesting, I felt as though I were being held at a distance... as though I had the flux. If not for that No Man's Land between the characters and me, I would rate this book even higher. Unfortunately, this lover of dystopian fiction felt a bit quarantined.


  1. It does sound like an interesting (and scary) concept.

  2. Hummmm. Good premise, I'm sorry the execution didn't engage you. I might flip through this as the library and see what I think.

  3. Kathy-- It is!

    Beth-- If I had to choose between McCarthy's The Road and Crace's The Pesthouse, I would choose The Road.

  4. I didn't feel as much distance between me and the characters, although you're right; there is some. I liked the picture of this post-apocalyptic America, especially the Ark, near the end.

  5. Jeanne-- I enjoyed that, too.


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