… is as good a time as any to write a book review.
I was awake, thinking how ugly things become when past their best. How there is nothing attractive about rot. And then I remembered Jim Crace‘s excellent book Being Dead in which he creates a poetic beauty from the clinical account of two bodies decomposing on a beach.
It’s one of my favourite novels – one of the few to make the elite list of Books To Read Again.
It begins with a middle-aged couple – long-married academics, filled with quiet disappointment, subdued resentment and love – who are mugged and killed on a remote stretch of beach and left to die in the sand dunes. The story splits into several strands – one is forward-moving, taking us through the process of decomposition, the others move backwards and recount events, over three decades, which led them to this particular reminiscent walk along the beach.
Crace writes about two ordinary people, dulled with age and conformity, scarred from events in their shared past – and does it beautifully, gently drawing Reality, all its quirks and contradictions. But it’s the secondary story, that of the decomposing bodies on the beach and the tiny world they create and sustain as they rot, which utterly compels and which works as a poetic drawn-out metaphor for the main narrative itself.
From a purely writerly perspective, having strands running in opposite directions from one key point is a masterful conceit and has danced in my mind as an aspiration since I read the book a few years ago. I just hadn’t found the story to fit the technique… but perhaps now I have.
I’ve just been outside with a cup of tea, staring at the stars. We all look at the same sky. It’s possibly one of the only ways in which we are truly connected. In the distance, somewhere up the street, a drunk is shouting random thoughts into the night… pained noises of disappointment, disillusion and despair, aimed at nobody in particular.
It’s probably as much as any of us ever do.