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Quarantine (1999)

Quarantine (1999)
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3.68 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0312199511 (ISBN13: 9780312199517)
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English
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picador
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Quarantine (1999)
Quarantine (1999)

About book: Now this is how you write a gripping book.Quarantine is what you might call a novel of ideas. It seeks to give an account of Jesus' forty-day sojourn in the desert and to explain how Christianity (or, if you will, the cult of Christ) came into being. While it's not overly blasphemous, it does present its theories in a way to which people who take the New Testament very literally might object. See, for one thing, Crace's Jesus is not the Son of God, but rather a clumsy and all too human carpenter who takes his faith more seriously than his work; for another, he is not actually the main character of the novel, nor even its most interesting character. That honour goes to Musa, surely one of the most fascinating villains in twentieth-century literature.Quarantine is about the (apparently common in Biblical times) act of quarantining -- i.e., secluding oneself in the desert for a while to meditate and commune with God. Jesus is only one of several characters who, on the first day of the story, arrive in an inhospitable part of the wilderness to take up lodgings in some barren caves and begin meditating. He's different from the other quarantiners, though. While the others only fast during the day and aren't averse to talking to each other when not meditating, Jesus is determined not to eat or drink anything for forty days and to stay completely on his own. But before he retreats into his cave, he touches a dying man, Musa, who promptly recovers. Needless to say, Musa is convinced Jesus is a miraculous healer, and tries to get him out of his cave to talk. But Jesus refuses, believing Musa is a devil come to tempt him. And so a fascinating battle of wills begins, which quickly works its way to a haunting (and remarkably plausible) conclusion. Crace is a fabulous writer. His metaphor-laden prose has a breath-taking, occasionally hallucinatory quality (especially in the marvellous second half of the book), and his descriptions of pretty much anything are superb. His Judean desert is an exciting place, so vivid it almost becomes a character in itself. His descriptions of fasting and what it does to one's body and mind are terrifying. (Trust me, after reading this book you'll never consider hunger striking again.) Yet it's the characters who steal the show. Jesus' struggle against temptation and hallucinations is rendered impressively, and rather more realistically than the stories told about this in the Bible. But while Jesus is important to the story for the effect he has on the other characters, he is not the most riveting character in the book. That would be Musa, a tyrannical merchant with a frightful sense of entitlement and very little compassion for anyone, let alone a bunch of afflicted souls who have come to the desert to pray. He's a nasty piece of work, is Musa, but Crace has drawn him so well that you find yourself fascinated by his exploits, even when he sets out, over the course of several pages, to plan the rape of the lone woman among the quarantiners (some of the most riveting prose I've ever come across). No, Musa is not Satan, but it's easy to see why Jesus believes he is. He's rotten to the core, which makes what he does on the final page of the book all the more extraordinary. I found myself glued to the pages whenever the story was told from his point of view, admiring Crace for the skill with which he brought his antagonist to life without making you want to close the book in disgust. The other perspectives are less impressive, but still entirely worth reading. Crace can draw characters in just a few lines, and his way with words is such that the effect is quite dazzling. He is quite the storyteller.So. Do seek this book out, people. Don't believe the baffling number of three-star reviews on this site; instead, check out the plethora of five-star reviews on Amazon.co.uk (here) and remember that Quarantine was voted the Whitbread Novel of the Year and short-listed for the Booker Prize. Then read the book. I promise you you won't regret it.

Jim Crace's short novel Quarantine was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997, but did not win - it lost to The God of Small Things. Despite not being a long novel - the Penguin edition clocks in at just 243 pages - Quarantine aims to achieve a high goal: retell the story of Jesus's 40 day sojourn in the desert and his temptation by the Devil.The problem with retellings of well-known stories is precisely the fact that they are well known - the author has to show a certain degree of invention to make up for that fact. It can be done by adapting the story to the modern setting, which is what Francis Ford Coppola did to Heart of Darkness and created Apocalypse Now). Many foreign films have been remade for the American market, keeping the story but localizing the cast and setting. Crace does not take this road - his work is set in the Judaean Desert 2000 years ago - but the story does not follow the Biblical gospels. Crace's Jesus is all too human: he has no divine aspirations, and came to the desert to fast and grow closer to God. He throws himself totally at his mercy - with no food and water and little shelter - guided only by his faith.Crace's Jesus is only one of several characters driven to the remoteness of the desert. The novel features six other characters, all of whom interact with Jesus in some way: the most interesting - and important - is Musa, a greedy trader and abusive man who was left in the desert by his partners to die a slow death, sickness eating him from the inside. He is accompanied by Miri, his pregnant wife who eagerly awaits his death. Although he is the most important person of the scene, Jesus is not the main character - in fact he is mostly seen through the eyes of others, who all project themselves onto him and see him through their needs. These characters are essential for Jesus to fulfill his destiny. Musa will come in contact with Jesus, and will be touched by him - all the people will be touched by Jesus in one way or another, and the impact he had on them will have consequences for the whole world.Crace's writing has the dreamlike and hazy quality, almost hallucinatory, appropriate for the setting and theme; he focuses on the miniscule detail of the wilderness of the desert, its animals, plants and insects. Folk beliefs of the times and people play an important part: Musa's sickness is understood to have been caused by a devil who snuck inside him through his mouth, and lit a fire under his chest. In 2011 I've read Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ , which I thought was a fantastic re-telling of the story of Jesus and a fable of the rise of Christianity (and a controversial one, too, resulting in hate threats of damnation being sent to the author). In his work, Pullman not focused his story on Jesus - he split him into two distinct persons, Jesus and Christ, which I thought worked splendidly and his book impacted me greatly - something which I did not expect and was verypleasantly surprised by. I felt that Jim Crace's book lost potential impact by letting Jesus be seen largely through the eyes of other characters; they themselves are well drawn and interesting (especially Musa), but you just can't compete with the Messiah. I mean, how often do you really get to see the Son of God up close and personal?In the end, found Quarantine to be a fablelike novel, stylishly written and full of symbolism, but constrained by the story it took upon itself - which is well known and holds few surprises even for those who do not know their Bible. It entered the canon of literary stories of Jesus - done by writers as different as Anne Rice and Norman Mailer - but I'm afraid that for all its quality if will remain in the background precisely because of its gentleness and meekness, overshadowed by more daring and controversal projects.
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Reviews
Christiane
This is Jim Crace’s version of Jesus‘ 40-day fast in the desert.Jesus, a fanatically religious young man from Galilee leaves his home and family to come to this arid, hostile place to fast and pray and commune with his God.He takes his fasting to extremes, seeing any relief of it as temptation by the devil. Being thoroughly human he suffers excruciating hunger, thirst, pain and loneliness and right before his death is tempted to ask for the devil’s help to save his life.There are 6 fellow travellers who find themselves in the same place for different reasons. They are a mixed bunch and we see Jesus through each of their eyes. While three of the group remain fairly uninteresting, the other three really come to life : Musa, the selfish, cruel, immoral merchant who credits „his Gally“ with having performed a miracle and saved his life; his abused, pregnant wife Miri who remains indifferent to Jesus; and Marta, a woman desperately wishing to have a child who feels that Jesus, appearing to her after his death and touching her belly with his fingertips, might have fulfilled her wish.Jim Crace has written an interesting, plausible story which I would have rated 3 stars if it weren’t for the absolutely stunning, beautiful, poetic, evocative writing which deserves 5 stars, therefore the 4-star compromise.
Delaney Green
Jim Crace's prose lifts you to a place that makes you feel wiser and better, yet his characters are real humans with real flaws and problems. Quarantine is an exotic blend of everyday hardship and transcendent faith. Quarantine takes place about 30 AD in the dry scrub of the Holy Land where people in need of guidance go alone into the wilderness to seek God through a process called quarantine that involves fasting, prayer, and reflection. In the novel, a group of characters loosely band together for mutual comfort and safety, but the character who holds himself apart from them and most fervently prays for enlightenment is Jesus of Nazareth.It is Crace's depiction of the divinity--and the humanity--of Jesus that makes Quarantine special. Crace’s Jesus is young and unsure even though divine power infuses his very breath. In conveying Jesus' nature, Crace writes, "When Jesus prayed, there came a point where the words were speaking him, and he became their object, not their source. Sometimes these prayers spoke to him in Greek or Aramaic… But there were occasions, more mystifying, feverish, and blissful, when the language was unknown, a tripping, spittle-basted tongue, plosive and percussive and high-pitched. Then, if he was left undisturbed for long enough with these wild rhapsodies, he might feel his spirit soften and solidify at once. He was an egg immersed in boiling water, a fusing and dividing trinity of yolk and white and shell." This passage for me, was an "Ahh" moment.Of the inescapable terrain the quarantiners must endure, Crace writes, “[the scrub] made no claims. It did not promise anything, except, maybe, to replicate through its array of absences the body’s inner solitude and to free its tenants and its guests from their addictions and their vanities. The empty lands…were siblings to the empty spaces in the heart.” Quarantine shares a story. It reveals character. It brings readers close to a man who changed the world but suggests this man is someone one might meet any time, anywhere.
Jeanne
Jesus' 40 days in the desert. Five people go into the desert and meet up with a woman and her husband who should have died. Jesus inadvertantly heals him. Jesus goes to a high cave and fasts. The others fast during the day but eat and drink at night. The trader (the man who should have died) wants a woman there because she wants to get pregnant and gets money from the others. Jesus dies but his spirit comes to the woman and heals her after the trader rapes her. Trader's wife and woman run away,
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