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Crace, Jim

christ little desert story

(British, 1946– )

Jim Crace has worked in Sudan and Botswana, and wrote radio plays and journalism before moving on to fiction. His writing is distinguished by its wide-ranging and intellectually exciting subject matter. Begin with his first book, Continent (1986, winner of the Whitbread and Guardian Fiction prizes), seven linked stories about an imaginary Third World, a rich mixture of myth, fantasy, and cultural history. Signals of Distress (1994) is a straightforward historical novel, set in the 1830s in Cornwall. An American emigration ship runs aground near an isolated community, who offer such hospitality as they can to the crew. There is a vein of humour in the meetings and misunderstandings between natives and newcomers. Arcadia (1992) is less successful, a rather lifeless fantasy about city life. Quarantine (1997, Booker Prize-shortlisted) is a powerfully original novel about Christ's forty days in the wilderness. The story is revealed from several points of view, including Musa, a greedy merchant who is left for dead in the desert, his tough, abused little wife, Miri, and Christ himself, known here as Gally, an almost simple-minded innocent. Both the desert, and the extreme mental and physical states brought about by fasting, are vividly evoked, and we are led deftly into chance events which, given a little time and distance, and the offices of a good story-teller, are the stuff of miracles. In Being Dead (1999) Crace deals with the lives of a middle-aged couple, through charting the decomposition of their corpses.

Peter Carey, William Boyd, Kazuo Ishiguro  JR

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