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Jim Crace is one of the most imaginative of contemporary novelists. The author of nine novels, he has received great public and intellectual acclaim across the UK, Europe, Australia and the United States, and was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Fiction prize (USA) for Being Dead in 2000. This study is an extended critical examination of Crace's oeuvre based on extensive interviews with the novelist, including discussions of his work from his first worldwide bestseller, Continent (1986), up to The Pesthouse (2007). Its treatment of themes, contexts and narrative strategies illuminates the literary and critical contexts within which Crace operates, situating him as one of the most adventurous and challenging of Britain's twenty-first century authors.
This book focuses on Jim Crace's novels and their major inclinations and themes, including the narrative neo-Darwinian impulse in humankind; mythic and parabolic understandings and symbols that persist despite modernity; belief and the self; death and love; the problematic dialectic of the individual within communities; urban realities countering bucolic or pastoral myths; and humankind's place within the greater evolutionary scheme of nature. Crace's major published works consist of Continent (1986), The Gift of Stones (1988), Arcadia (1992), Signals of Distress (1994), The Slow Digestions of the Night (1995), Quarantine (1997), Being Dead (1999), The Devil's Larder (2001), Six (2003) and The Pesthouse (2007).
This chapter outlines a biographical sketch of Jim Crace and considers its relationship to his fictional world, focusing upon the pastoral impulse that shaped his Arcadian visions and their origin in the area in which he lived until he left school at eighteen. It analyses Craceland's dynamics and characteristics, considering it as a world apart from our own, often but not always found in an additional sixth (inhabited) continent. The chapter also considers the development of Crace's writing, from his early attempts, his career as a journalist and finally the emergence of the rhythmic prose that has come to typify Crace, with its preciseness of observed detail. Also considered are the traditional mythopoeic, storytelling and pastoral traditions that Crace incorporates so as to reinvigorate the novel, and as Eleazar M. Meletinsky explains in The Poetics of Myth (2000), ‘Twentieth-century mythification is unthinkable without humor and irony, which inevitably result when the modern is wedded to the archaic’. This combination creates the energy of Crace's comedy and yet sustains his serious themes.
This chapter explores the sense of historical and personal transition for two communities in Continent and The Gift of Stones, one a Third World seventh continent and the other a Stone Age village. In both, traditional cultures are challenged. Jim Crace's commentary is embedded in the parabolic and allegorical structures of his fictions, and his worlds are not fantastical ones. Continent has a loose form, with varied characters and settings. Despite the dynamics of modernity, individuals retain a sense of the past and certain mythopoeic possibilities reassert themselves almost uncannily. Invented elements recur, such as the manac beans dropped by the prisoner on his arrest in ‘The World with One Eye Shut’, which are sold to prevent erotic desire in The Devil's Larder. Crace's storytelling strategies depend on the innate, if partial, failure of more rational and familiar methods of explication.
This chapter focuses on Arcadia and Signals of Distress, and the relationship of the individual to the larger community, in particular the sense of marginality. In both novels, published in the early 1990s, new arrivals and existing inhabitants face uncertainty in periods of great transition. The two settings are contrasting. The first novel is decidedly urban, and, as Jim Crace says, ‘I'm addicted to the imperfections of city life’. However, key characters are drawn from the countryside. In both novels, certain individuals seem periodically at odds with both the landscape and the trajectory of history, and all of them explore the rituals of everyday existence, especially those of trade and desire, in a series of crises of identity and social conflicts. In the imaginary settings, the first unnamed and the second a rendition of an obscure backwater in the early nineteenth century, Crace creates what might be termed an ‘imaginary realism’.
This chapter comments on two books published at the end of the 1990s, Quarantine and Being Dead, which together represent perhaps Jim Crace's most lauded fiction. Each seems very different from the other, but both correlate human responses, emotional and physical, to hostile environments at the edge of civilisation, away from the rhythm of people's habitual lives. Both novels present a recurrent pattern into which other recognisably Cracean elements are interwoven; the landscape itself and its place in nature subsumes and dwarfs various individuals who are faced with the issues of human belief, human identity and the universal presence of death in life and its metaphysical meaning, or lack of it. Death is immanent in life. In both texts, a sense of the mundanity of the quotidian intersects with descriptions that evoke the symbolic power of nature.
This chapter considers the two books that were published at the beginning of the new millennium. Jim Crace particularises issues of love, family and other intimate or domestic interpersonal relations in The Devil's Larder and Six (2003). Of The Devil's Larder, some of whose stories had appeared previously in Slow Digestions of the Night, Crace admits the project was long planned, and represents ‘an attempt at a piecemeal, patchwork novel’, something inspired by Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and Primo Levy's The Periodic Table. In Crace, the short pieces at times feel like narrative equivalents of philosophic aphorisms, particularly with their broadly common gastronomic themes and the implicit architectonic of an overriding cumulative intention. Generally, the recurrent contexts and themes are overt and therefore easy to identify, and include: relationships, sexuality and desire; families and their patterns of behaviour and traditions; sociability, jollity and its absence; and forms of poisoning or allergies.