The Pesthouse

The Pesthouse

A Novel

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
5
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From the incomparable Jim Crace, two-time winner of the Whitbread Prize and shortlist candidate for the Booker, comes his most accessible work to date. Rich in detail, sweeping in scope, The Pesthouse is at once an intimate story of characters whose lives have been uprooted, and a gripping story of danger and misadventure.
Publisher: Toronto : Bond Street Books, c2007
ISBN: 9780385662635
0385662637
Branch Call Number: CRA
Characteristics: 255 p

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GLNovak
Jan 07, 2017

Yes, I agree, this is not "The Road", and should be read on its own merits. The small sparks of happiness, contentment and, yes, love, made this a much less stark read than many books of this genre. I liked it. The premise is that in the distant past something happened in North America that reduced it to a subsistence peasant-type society with very little in the way of metal or other manufactured goods. Many are trekking east to take ship to Europe where the story is things are more than grand. They are stupendously great with jobs for everyone and the trees just dripping with fruit - the proverbial golden land where every dream can come true. Who knows if this is real? No one; but they keep going.
The journey is fraught with dangers, but also some good along the way. Along with the thieves, slavers, scavengers, religious fanatics we have been meeting in other post-apocalyptic stories there are still small farms and sympathetic souls. The ending gives us a glimmer of hope for the characters, and for ourselves should we ever land in similar circumstances.

i
IV27HUjg
Nov 13, 2015

Premise is promising...totally off the mark for me. Maybe a few pearls of wisdom, but I kept thinking 'will this every get going, then will it ever end' - I quit it. Give me The Road & Far North.

j
jdick
Jul 03, 2015

Couldn't put it down. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Even made my book club read it. I also made them read "The Road", so we could compare the two!

j
JackPurcell
May 12, 2015

A fairly readable book, different enough to hold the attention, though it could easily have been set almost anytime in human history instead of the future. I wasn't tempted at any point to put it down and read something else.

t
the17pointscale
Jul 18, 2013

This book is not THE ROAD. I wish it were THE ROAD. That's what I kept finding myself thinking as I read THE PESTHOUSE--this would be better if it were THE ROAD. At one point I even said to one of the characters, "If you'd read THE ROAD, you would know that you should be a bit more careful here." And then later, "See! I told you."

The thing is, everything about THE PESTHOUSE is good, maybe even great, but it somehow lacks the economy of language and the gray terror and desperation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winner.

Clearly, there's no reason THE PESTHOUSE should have aspired to just those traits, no reason it should have tried to be THE ROAD. Both novels play with history, never revealing how exactly the characters came to these roads or why they think the coast is the place with the most. And both novels use crazy archaic words--here we have "swarf," tetherings," "susurrus"--but perhaps where I appreciate THE PESTHOUSE the most is where it diverged, where it went surprisingly direct (see the opening sentence: "Everybody died at night") or playful (a passage about apple juice and a coat that acts as a homing beacon, for example) or listy ("But there are always some awake in the small times of the morning—the lovemakers, for instance, the night workers, the ones with stone-hard beds or aching backs, the ones with nagging consciences or bladders, the sick") or sociological (Crace seems most interested in creating and then fleshing out little worlds within his apocalypse--the capitalist ferrytowners, the antimetal zealots, the sex-selling survivalist outpost of widows). Oh, and there's a love story (not sure what I thought about that).

But one more way in which my reading experience of THE PESTHOUSE resembled (though in a flawed way) my reading of THE ROAD: McCarthy loads his novel with all kinds of biblical imagery and language. It's even possible to read THE ROAD as an incarnation story--a loving, self-sacrificing boy is born into a time of great darkness. To some degree at least, I think McCarthy planned this. Not so with THE PESTHOUSE. Still, if one edits an interview with the philosopher Richard Kearney while reading this novel (for THE OTHER JOURNAL--you should subscribe!), as I happened to do, then one can't help but see theological implications written all over everything.

In the interview, Kearney articulates the coming of the Messiah in a way that I hadn't heard before. He talks about the passage in Matthew where Jesus basically says that any time we help someone in need, he is there. Kearney says that every time a person offers such an invitation or gift to the stranger, the Messiah becomes present. The incarnation is happening again and again, he says. And strangely enough, THE PESTHOUSE, a book that in some ways makes a mockery of organized religion, is all about these kinds of encounters between strangers. Sometimes the strangers do little things to help one another, sometimes they simply avoid one another, and sometimes they do evil to such strangers (a kind of Sodom and Gomorrah, if you will). Elsewhere in that interview, Kearney considers whether the Messiah was present at the time and place of one of our world's greatest atrocities, Auschwitz, but here in THE PESTHOUSE we get to ponder whether the Messiah is present at the apocalypse.

PS This is a strange review! Whoohoo!

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