Year 4 / Book 9: The Pesthouse

9) The Pesthouse by Jim Crace

I remember finding this book somewhere shortly after I’d been prompted to read it by Ronnie Hughes in an exchange under this blog post. That tells me that I”ve been hanging on to the book for more than a year, and it was worth the wait. Crace is a unique writer, able to conjure strange but familiar worlds, to create characters who are familiar yet utterly distant to your current life, and novels that are compelling without conventional plot structures. If you haven’t read any by him, I thoroughly recommend Harvest, Being Dead and Arcadia amongst others.

The Pesthouse is the tale of Franklin and Margaret, a young man and woman thrust together by a disaster striking the town they happen to both be in that night. After that apocalyptic event, they strike out like pioneers across a weird old-new America which seems to be falling apart at the seams. There are rustlers rounding up young men, religious groups banning metal, and everyone is trying to escape to some unseen, unknown promised land.

Crace is such a lyrical writer, and there’s much beauty to be found in the sentences in the novel, particularly in the early stages – it’s immensely powerful stuff, and he has a way with words and structure which is difficult to define, but impossible not to admire. I love reading his novels, and this one held me gripped for almost the entire way, only waning slightly in the last 30 to 40 pages.

The story is specific but universal as well: it’s about outcasts, immigrants, the urge to explore, loyalty, family, and what it means to be a nation made up of wanderers. At its heart, though, it is about friendship and a growing love between two people which is profoundly affecting – and you can’t help rooting for them 100% of the way.

Score: 8/10

BUY IT NOW; The Pesthouse

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