Harrowing Tale from a Master of Imagination; BOOK REVIEWS

Article excerpt

Every sentence is perfectly weighted, his words are wonderfully well chosen and there is an almost poetic rhythm to his books

WE Brummies are a diffident bunch and it's just not in our nature to boast about our success stories but we really ought to make an exception for Jim Crace.

He is, quite simply, the best novelist working in Britain today.

The Moseley author has won umpteen prizes to prove the point and the critics lavish deserved praise on him.

His problem is that he is a serious writer in a trivial age but knowing he will never sell out is one of the reasons that makes him great.

His books are not always easy and Being Dead (Viking pounds 16.99) is about a very difficult business indeed - the processes of death.

Joseph and Celice are two middle-aged zoologists who try to recapture the moment 30 years ago when they first made love among the sand dunes of Baritone Bay.

But as they lie naked in the sand an unknown killer creeps up and brutally batters them to death. It is a random murder made all the worse by his petty theft of their few possessions - a wedding ring, the contents of their pockets, even the sandwiches brought for a picnic.

For six days their bodies lie undiscovered and Crace meticulously details what happens to them. We witness the arrival of the scavengers, the crabs and beetles and sea gulls that come calling and we see the processes of corruption and decay. This is certainly harrowing and unpleasant but it is a million miles away from the morbid fascination with death that fills the forensic thrillers that are all the rage at the moment.

We are also given the story of a very odd couple in flashbacks to their decidedly off-centre lives.

There is irony, of course, in that two natural scientists should themselves be reclaimed by nature.

Crace is an avowed atheist so there is no point looking for spiritual meaning. But there is a kind of comfort in his humane treatment of death and all it entails.

He conjures up a world that is familiar and yet somehow not what it seems. The landscapes may sound English but they are also strangely foreign.

He convincingly reels off the names of insects, birds and animals that sound utterly right and yet they are probably made up. …