My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Jul 3

Quarantine

Category: Opinions

I recently finished Quarantine by Jim Crace, a novel of harsh reality and spiritual surrealism. The novel takes place during the time of Jesus, in the desolate wastes outside of Judea. A merchant, Musa, lies dying of fever in his tent. Despite being abandoned by their caravan, mostly made up of Musa’s uncles and cousins, Musa’s wife couldn’t be happier. Miri’s six months pregnant, left to do “women’s work,” left by the caravan to tend to her husband with the most meager supplies, but for the first time in years she’s filled with hope. She’ll be absolutely glad to be widowed. She’s glad to be rid of his family, she’s happy to dig his grave. This is because Musa is a drunken, disgusting, abusive, poor excuse for a man. He’s abusive in every way possible, verbally, physically, sexually. Miri would rather endure birth alone in the desert than suffer her husband any longer. She does her duty, says her prayers, anoints him with the proper salves, but she knows it’s pointless. She leaves Musa to die alone while she digs his grave. Meanwhile, five travelers walk toward nearby caves for their “quarantine,” forty-days of sun-up till’ sundown fasting. Each has personal reasons for their quarantine, but they’re all seeking spiritual rewards. However, one is far more ambitious than the rest. A young man from Galilee, Jesus. Jesus seeks an audience with God Himself. He’s bound for the most isolated cave, with faith as his only sustenance unless God personally sends angels to feed him. It’s Jesus who stumbles upon the tent while Miri’s away, hoping to find some hospitality and potentially, his last meal for forty-days. He finds stale dates, a water skin. Assuming no one is around, nor that they would mind, he helps himself. Of course, Musa is there, feverish and near-death. Near-death, until Jesus finds him…

While reading, I really wasn’t sure that I liked the book. It’s mainly a book of description and third-person narrative. There’s very little dialogue, which made for a… dense read. It rather reminds me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in that it’s short, but the prose are spectacularly lush, and very heavy. Still, he’s ultimately excellent at painting images with words.  While reading, I also found it difficult to “like” any of the characters, especially Musa. Yet, as I’ve had a chance to think about the book, the fact that I feel so strongly about the characters is proof of Crace’s skill as writer. They’re all very real, very flawed and very alive. Jesus is not perfect, the quarantine does not treat him kindly. He might be God made flesh, but he’s just as imperfect as any human being. Crace renders Jesus in a realist’s perspective. In the end, I feel that Quarantine shows that one cannot exist solely on faith, yet we do not survive entirely alone. God exists, but our fate is more our own than we might want to believe. It’s very worth reading.

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