Friday, October 08, 2010

10.23 The Passage by Justin Cronin

Before I wimp out and cop another review let me say that I enjoyed this book a lot and if it had been 250 pages shorter I would be recommending it to all my friends. Perhaps this Cronin guy will be like George RR Martin and not give us the next volume until 2015.

"This is one of those books that arrives on the shelves with a backstory. When the first chapters of Justin Cronin's vampire fantasy started circulating in US publishing houses back in 2007, they sparked a fierce bidding war. Cronin became a rich man long before the public got their hands on his work (the book and film deals netted over $5m). The public's turn has finally come and The Passage is being touted as this year's blockbuster beach read.

The story starts in the near future with government experiments on a virus that gives those infected with it superhuman strength and eternal life. The downside is that it also gives them fangs, claws, glowstick orange skin, a taste for human flesh and raging photophobia. The first section details the virus's discovery and subsequent tests conducted on death-row inmates. It's taut and tight and, from the amorality of the military experiments to the passing references to America's polluted, lawless state, everything in the opening section drips with dread.

In fact, the opening chapters are so effective that it takes ages to settle into the second section, which is set in the post-apocalyptic world left by the inevitable release of the virus. The action had been fast and violent, with helicopters and bombs; in part two, there's a new cast of characters living a century later who plod round on horses and get excited if they catch a rabbit. The pace does pick up, though, and Cronin's postviral world is inventive and interesting – even if it does owe a debt to The Road, The Stand and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

Cronin, who won the Hemingway/ Pen award for an earlier novel, is a skilled writer. Most of the characters are well drawn and he tackles the philosophical issue of gaining eternal life at the cost of your soul in between the throat-ripping battle scenes. But he does have some annoying quirks. He sprinkles italics and unnecessary capital letters around in a very distracting way. He's weirdly coy about using the word vampire – his creations are variously called Virals, Flyers, Dracs and Smokes.

Also, the only character who appears in both sections of the novel is a six-year-old girl called Amy (or The Girl from Nowhere, as Cronin has it). She should be fascinating – Amy possesses ill-defined special powers and has kept her humanity despite viral infection – but readers have no access to her interior life and she barely speaks. No doubt this is because The Passage is the first of a trilogy and her story will unfold in later books, but it does mean that this one has a gaping hole at its heart.

A further problem is practical. If you need to take an easyJet flight to reach the beach you want to read this on, it will be virtually impossible to fit this 766-page hardback in hand luggage. If you do manage to cram it in, though, you won't regret it. I turned The Passage's pages feverishly to find out what happened next."

- Alice Fisher in The Observer

1 comment:

meezly said...

this was on my list, but I kept reading disappointing reviews, ie. how Cronin is applying a "serious" take on the PA vampire genre and as a result it doesn't quite deliver or there's no emotional payoff. but if you really liked this book and the only major fault is the length, then may I will reconsider...