Jim Crace: The Pesthouse


The latest addition to my website is Jim Crace‘s The Pesthouse. I have long held the view that the United States, a country which has passed from barbarism to decadence without passing through the intervening stage of civilisation (the original quote is attributed to numerous people), will, eventually, when resources run out, collapse into a horrific civil war, fuelled by the gun culture that many in the US seem to love. The NRA’s favourite quote is When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. The trouble is that the outlaws, in this scenario, will be better armed and probably better organised and will prevail. End of political message. This book, as you can see, is about the post-apocalyptic United States though, for some reason, guns do not appear, apparently long since gone, as industry has disappeared. I feel that this may be something of a flaw in the book as the bad guys would still manufacture their own guns and bullets but maybe Crace has the sensible European abhorrence of guns and kept them out of his book. A disease called the Grand Contagion has wiped out not only much of the population but all the industry. People are now fleeing to the East coast to try and get a ship to Europe, where things seem to be much better. They have to pass through Ferrytown, which is essentially wiped out at the very beginning of the book when a landslide releases poisonous gases, killing the entire population. The two survivors – Margaret who has been confined to a pesthouse (a small hut) because it is feared that she has the dreaded flux (another disease) and Franklin, waiting outside town for his brother to get food and a ferry passage while he recovers from a knee injury – set out together to get a ship and have the usual adventures – strange sects, roaming bands of thugs, other travellers, often in distress. It is not particularly original but a well-told tale and enjoyable if you like post-apocalyptic novels. If you do, Wikipedia has a list (though not this one) though this list does include this one.

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