Being dead

by Jim Crace

Hardcover, 2000

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Description

"On Baritone Bay, in mid-afternoon, Joseph and Celice, maried for almost thirty years, lie murdered in the dunes. The shocking particulars of their passing make up the arc of this courqageous and haunting novel. The story of life, mortality, and love, Being Dead confirms Jim Crace's place as one of our most talented, compassionate, and intellectually provacative writers." From the bookjacket.

Media reviews

Yet for all the "experimental" feel that he imparts to his work, the fact is that, to say it again, Crace is working firmly within the mainstream of English fiction, and a good thing that is, for English fiction, at least. A solid yet always adventurous writer, he has done much to revitalize a tradition in danger of becoming moribund.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Donna828
Two lovers in their early 50's, Joseph and Celice, are killed on the beach where they first made love 30 years ago. As the end of the brief first chapter states: "They paid a heavy price for their nostalgia."

This is not a book about the murder per se, but about death and decay described in oxymoronic language both lyrical and clinical. Crace builds a backstory that begins with a strange kind of young love that is ignited by the antics of a marine cricket known as a sprayhopper. Apparently, zoologists have their own ideas of what works in the romance department! He depicts their past as a meditation of ordinary days straining toward the "gateway to our deaths" as Celice told her zoology students in her lectures on life and death -- the double helix of existence.

This book, though oddly compelling, is not for everyone, and should be avoided by the squeamish, but it does make one appreciate life and having thought-provoking books like Being Dead to read.
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LibraryThing member msf59
No, this not another zombie novel. Not even close. Actually, a better title might be “Scientists in Love”, although that fails to capture the dark, haunting tone, that shadows these pages.
Joseph and Celice, are middle-aged zoologists. In the opening chapter, they are found murdered in a remote area of the dunes. As their bodies begin to decompose, the narrative takes us on a serpentine journey through this couple’s lives and we witness their chance meeting in college, a long, sometimes bumpy thirty-year marriage, the usual joys and pitfalls, a restless, unhappy daughter and then finally their last fateful day.
There is some gruesome detail to this story but it’s described in a simple scientific manner. It is also filled with some lovely prose:
“Yet there was still love, the placid love that only time can cultivate, a love preserved by habit and memory. Their tree had little rising sap, perhaps, but it was held firm by deep and ancient roots.”
Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
Many thanks to Madeline and Donna for recommending this book. And, a big thanks for Brenzi (Bonnie) for sending an autographed copy to me as a gift!

I tremendously enjoyed this book, though, it does seem incongruently odd to say that I liked a book about "being dead".

The writing is magical, lyrical, complex and compelling. Two Middle aged Zoologists, Joseph and Celice have long struggled with a marriage that simply doesn't mesh. Successful in their field, yet by societal standands, they have failed in many areas, including raising a daughter who is self sufficicent and other directed.

It an attempt to find one last chance at romance, Joseph invites Celice to return to the area on Baritone Bay where they first met as post graduate students and had sexual encounters in the sand.

Tragically, their nostalgic journey nets their senseless killing and they are robbed and beaten to death in the deserted dunes.

While Craces' descriptions of the decay of their bodies is not an easy read, the reader is hooked by his intelligent philosophical rendering of life and the natural process we will all endure when we die.

This is seem less writing that is not romantic or over embellished with sorrow. And, while it seems clinical, there is enough character development that holds the reader riveted to the story, deeply understanding the fact that on a bring, sunny day, life can suddenly end.

Juxtapositioning chapters between the bodies on the beach and details regarding the lives of Cecile and Joseph lends to sadness, but also detachment. Truly, the characters are not like able. From the beginning chapters, the reader does not like self obsessed, pragmatic Cecile. Joseph seems flat and unappealing. Still, in no way does Crace intimate that their senseless, untimely death was justified.

Highly Recommended!
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LibraryThing member jeniwren
Well this is an odd short novel about an elderly couple who after a picnic at the beach are brutally murdered. The author gives in depth scientific descriptions of the process of decomposition interspersed with their lives up until the point of being picked over by insects and micro-organisms. " Our births are just the gateway to our death's. Those who begin to live, begin to die." Whilst they lie on the beach undiscovered for several days their estranged daughter comes home to deal with their disappearance.
A very strange story and I will be interested to read more from this author.
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LibraryThing member kirstiecat
I want to say this novel is morbid but that's not entirely true. Instead, peculiar would be a more fitting word. First, it contains the longest description of decomposing bodies and the organisms that profit from it that I've ever read. It recalled the detailed and forever memorable rotting of Miss Havisham's neglected wedding feast only, you know, with human corpses.


Second, we start out with this married couple in midlife being dead and go backwards. We learn enough about these two zoologists-what they were like when they were young, how they met and became closer and everything inbetween. By the end of the book, we know infinitely more than we'd ever thought to want to know about the two that were killed off beginning on page 1. And yet, these are the main protagonists of the book and the more that you read, the more that you wish you could escape the inevitable fact that these two are not going to have any moments together anymore. It's as if being dead redeems them as characters because you grow attached and you even love them a little. All the while, the tragedy is accentuated. And in these 200 pages that escape, you find yourself slowly realizing ad you grow to love them that it might, in fact, be because they are no more. If they were alive, surely they would not be as interesting or as (ironically) vivid as they are now. They are preserved in a sense of tragedy that makes them intriguing.


Third, it's much less predictable than most fiction on this topic. Our two protagonists are dead from the start because of a rather brutal murder but instead of focusing on who did it and why, Crace instead tells us their story. In a way, that makes them less like victims and more like modern British tragic heroes. It's also what makes the story more interesting than a whodunnit or a why did it happen sort of novel. There's enough already written like that and not as many with this sort of angle.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Being dead by Jim Crace is a gruesome story. It opens with the brutal murder of Celice and Joseph, a middle-aged couple of university professors. The story recounts, as their lives are described backwards, the process of dying and decay, with minute precision. The story spirals around the general motive of death. Other deaths, such as that of the couple's study friend, mirror this general theme. Death(s) crop up all over the story. The minute observations of death seem to mock the couple's life as biology professors, observing the minutae of life. At the same time, while death is usually the factor to separate people, the death of Celice and Joseph brings them together with their rebellious daughter, who has been living her own self-destructive life-style.

The story moves from raucous realism, to poetic images of beauty and nature, and can be quite shocking initially. There is a considerable amount of horror in the story, and a sense that death lies in wait for everyone, only to snatch away life in a moment. Life is as capricious as death.

While the title of the book is Being dead it might as well simply have been "Death", or "Memento mori". A universal theme of all times, in a shocking new conceptalization.

A fascinating read (if you can stomach some of the disgusting details, described with the detail of a dissection).
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LibraryThing member Winter_Maiden
Many other reviews have equivocated on the quality of this book or backed away from what is unique about it by warning readers of the detailed journey into the processes of death and decomposition they must face if they read it. I, too, found the principle characters unappealing, but they are sufficiently specific-yet-universal to give us a reasonably good idea of what is ending when they die.

But it is beginning that interests Jim Crace. What makes this book worth reading is precisely its exploration of that distasteful journey into and beyond death. The lack of a particular statement about the characters as characters may be part of Crace's statement. He stays with them as long as he can, up to the point of death, and then remains faithfully at their sides as they decompose. Thomas Huxley declined to speculate on whether the poor stuff of which he was made would remain forever separate from the great All whence it came. Grace also declines to speculate. He stays with the bodies and what happens to them, because those at least do not remain forever separate. They part company with the person and embark on their own afterlife.

Grace gives us a good enough idea of who it is that is decomposing. But he does not delve further into their characters because it is the dissolution of their individuality he showing us. "Being Dead" is not a composition, but a decomposition, in which we are invited to gaze upon their remains and see not the end of two people but the beginning of something else--something that has its own aesthetic, its own directions, its own entropy, and its own mystery. It is this meditation on that liminal moment of undoing/becoming, written by Jim Crace with exquisite and tranquil grace, that makes this a very special book. His voice is not cold and clinical; on the contrary, in his highly specific descriptions you can hear the music of the spheres. "Being Dead" is one answer to that great line of Dracula's: "To die, to be truly dead-- That would be glorious."
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
While I can easily see the skill, research and art that went into this book, and even understand why it won awards, because of its subject - violent death presented in a very impersonal way - I found it a rather depressing read. The vivid descriptions of bodily decomposition and putrefaction, presented as they were in a most scientific manner, were concurrently morbidly fascinating and simply off-putting. The thread of absolute atheism that runs throughout the narrative was also disturbing - thought-provoking, but still disturbing, even if the reader has wrestled with his own problems of faith. Crace is quite definite in this matter, noting that "This was not death as it was advertised: a fine translation to a better place; a journey through the calm of afterlife into the realms of instinct and desire. The persons had not gone elsewhere,, to blink and wake ... They were, instead, as insensible as stones ..."

The murdered couple's daughter, Syl, embodies this atheism even further when she sits outside a church and listens to a congregation singing hymns, but finds no comfort - "Her father's songs, for all their mawkish sentiment, were far more powerful. Love songs transcend, transport, because there's such a thing as love. But hymns and prayers have feeble tunes because there are no gods."

There is more depressing stuff as the emotionless narrator goes on to describe how the crabs, insects, gulls and rodents "went to work" browsing the human remains.

The murderer himself is never identified or described; he is simply a means to an end, an instrument who causes this very final and very 'natural' state of "being dead."

The redeeming parts of the story come in the quirky love story that is Joseph and Celice, both zoologists, but nearly complete opposites in their outside interests and personalities. After thirty years together, they bicker and argue and make each other angry - "Yet there still was love, the placid love that only time can cultivate, a love preserved by habit and by memory."

Yes this is a very skilfully written story, but it leaves me cold. So maybe Mr. Crace did what he intended to do. Death is very final, but it's also an integral part of life. We begin to die from the moment we are conceived. I get it. But do I really want to have my face - my mind - rubbed in it? Nope.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
In a manner zigzagging back and forth in time, the author traces the death of two zoology professors whose remains lie on the sands of Baritone Bay. The foreground is the nature of the land, raw and barren but soon to be developed. The background is the story of the married couple whose original meeting we see portrayed in this book. We learn why the couple returned to the place of their original meeting, the sad aspects of their turbulent relationship with their only daughter, and the reason for their ultimate demise.

The author’s way with words makes this book a delight to read. Its unorthodox timeline keeps the reader alert as the story progresses. The total package examines death from its natural base and adds the angle of human misfortune. The story is quite enchanting despite its macabre subject..
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
The blend of science and story is what lingers with me after finishing this book. The story itself isn't warm enough - I didn't identify with the characters or particularly like them - and doesn't really leave the reader with good feelings. It wouldn't say it left me with feelings for characters or plot lines at all. The science is better, and if I was compelled to turn a page it was for description of how the natural world around the bodies reacted. Something felt missing, or cold, and I think that was reliance on the scientific aspects of the story. I enjoyed it. I wouldn't recommend it or read it again because too much of it was icky, but I did enjoy it.… (more)
LibraryThing member TTAISI-Editor
Hard to believe a book that includes so much detail about death, dying, and decomposition could be so good, but it is!
LibraryThing member Foxen
A haunting little novel about a murdered couple. It explores the circuitous causes and meanings of their deaths, meandering through the past that brought them to that place at that time, while also following their decomposition before the bodies are found, and their daughter's search for them when they don't show up at work. It really tries to convey the banality of death, the commonplace and biological, to cut past the sentimental and romanticized ways in which we avoid really thinking about it, and yet show that it has meaning through its reality. It's a good novel, though admittedly morbid. I personally did not find it as heavy as some other reviewers have, perhaps because I'd already read Stiff by Mary Roach, and was somewhat desensitized to the idea of dead bodies. I also know that some people found the characters kind of stiff and unappealing, but I didn't find them particularly objectionable. Overall, a good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member meredithmcarlson
It felt very poetic to me. It quickly became my favorite book (at the time) after the first read.
LibraryThing member ShelfMonkey
What is death? It is a question that haunts every human, as natural to our being as breathing. Many, many thousands of books have been written on the subject, most aimed at determining an afterlife of some sort, or a purpose behind it all. However, author Jim Crace is not content to mirror such themes, whether they are phantasmagorical (Richard Matheson's WHAT DREAMS MAY COME), or contemplative (M. Scott Peck's IN HEAVEN AS ON EARTH). Crace wants to understand what death is, what it means, and what is lost and gained in the process.
Crace achieves a remarkable mediation on the subject in BEING DEAD, a novel that is unnerving in its originality and tenderness. He centres on Joseph and Celice, an elderly married couple, brutally murdered on a quiet beach. Crace takes several offbeat tacts in portraying what these deaths mean, both biologically and emotionally.

First, the bodies themselves. Crace goes into determinedly graphic detail in his characterization of decomposition. As the bodies slowly deteriorate, the small world that surrounds them begins to interact, to reclaim the material for nature. For most of us, the thought of what happens to our bodies physically after death is a repulsive one. Yet Crace never offends, and never becomes exploitative. The lyricism and sense of melancholy Crace brings to the biological breakdown of a body are truly haunting.

Interwoven with biology is nostalgia, as Crace charts the map of Joseph and Celice's relationship. From the first awkward rush of passion, to the resignation that an elderly couple may face every day, Crace allows the reader a glimpse into their minds, a reminder that every person is unique, and what we see is only superficial. Joseph's small frame and majestic singing voice only hint at his unhappiness with his life's outcome; physical opposite Celice's apparent quiet love of her husband masks her increasing frustration with the lack of passion in her life. These small glimpses into the makeup of their lives are an abrupt change from the description of their deaths, but the contrast serves to heighten the senselessness of death, and the steadfast mysteries that life and death both contain. How can we ever believe we can comprehend death, when we cannot even begin to understand the true nature and purpose of one solitary individual?

Thirdly, Crace follows their daughter, a sullen young woman who has never gotten along with either of her parents. As she reluctantly searches for her missing mother and father, we view the way our lives continue after death, in the thoughts and memories of those we knew, and in the biological framework of our progeny. While the daughter would never admit it, she is equal parts mother and father, displaying both the good and bad traits of her parents. In Joseph and Celice's death, she finds a measure of comfort and renewal, ultimately of purpose.

I do not mean for this to sound like a spiritual odyssey. As in his previous novel QUARANTINE (a realist version of Christ's forty days in the desert), Crace is not ready to resort to comforting platitudes on what comes next. Death is death, and what is beyond remains, and should remain, a mystery. Death is both intensely personal, and a universal experience shared by all. By providing the reader no easy answers, by never revealing the answer to the question, Crace provides an altogether mesmerizing and satisfying experience.
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LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
Being Dead is a well-written, at times even engrossing, novel, but is essentially bleak. Author Jim Crace provides a literary "quivering" for Joseph and Celise, the murdered protagonists, going back in stages to fill in details of both their last day and their 30 year marraige.

The problem for me is that the author's "secular" view of life and death is depressing. Maybe some find the idea that we live, we die, and that is all there is to it, comforting. I find it grim. Add to my fundamental disagreement in outlook the fact that neither Joseph nor Celise was very happy with their marraige, their daughter, or life in general, and the whole thing is a real downer.… (more)
LibraryThing member wandering_star
Very spare and beautifully written. Slightly too heavy on the anti-spiritual point (eg daughter not being upset). Not sure how much I would have liked it if I didn't think of Jim Crace as a writer that I liked.
LibraryThing member NativeRoses
A virtuoso fusion of high-concept fabulism and psychological realism which takes a pitilessly minute observation, as through a microscope, of the processes of organic decay in the lifeless bodies of a middle-aged married couploe, nad makes something unexpectedly romantic.
LibraryThing member Bookmarque
An odd story told in two different time periods; the one just before and just after death, and their meeting some 30 years previously. I thought the author did a fairly good job on both except that I didn’t get a real understanding of what happened to Celice to make her accept Joseph. She was pretty scornful of him and men like him in general. She was pretty carnal back in the 70s and he was the total opposite. Even in the present tense parts of the book, it didn’t seem as though she liked him at all. I would have liked to see more of why she married him.

The details of physical death were graphic and kind of gross. All kinds of bodily fluids and degenerative processes. Ugh. And the telling of the crime and the absolute coldness and heartlessness in the attacker’s mind. I was kind of disappointed that he didn’t get caught, but that’s not what this book was about.

One thing that struck me was how similar the daughter is to Celice. She thinks her parents are old-fashioned and have always been as backward and conservative as she thinks they are. In reality, she is very much like her mother in attitude if not in execution. Casual sex and a feigned sense of self-esteem carry them both through their days. Celice turns into a very hard, unforgiving and unsensual woman. It’s easy to see that Syl will become the same.
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LibraryThing member dreamreader
I was drawn to this work because I'd recently enjoyed Mary Roach's collection of essays in "Stiff" and am of roughly the same age as poor Celice and Joseph who lie murdered and decaying in the sand dunes as this book opens. We Americans hide and disguise so much about death, cloaking our language in euphemisms or having words fail us altogether as we comfort loved ones "in this difficult time." My recent reading of fiction has veered either toward the slightly macabre and melancholy, or to English writers, so I was drawn with morbid fascination to Jim Crace's "Being Dead". Crace shifts perspective from the moments just after the couple's murder - to the receding hours just before, the advancing hours and days just after, and thirty years prior when they first met. What is lovely at the core of this "quivering" for rotting corpses is the elliptical way their lives together begin and end. We often read to know we're not alone, so it's especially comforting to read Crace's summary of the fragility and preciousness of life - "There is no remedy for death - or birth - except to hug the spaces in between. Live loud. Live wide. Live tall."… (more)
LibraryThing member marek2009
Quite nicely written, though a bit boring. A poor man's Ian McEwan.
LibraryThing member mattviews
I have never read anything like Being Dead: haunting, grotesque, sadly beautiful and unforgettable. The novel is not a murder mystery as it attempts to disguise many readers. It is rather an inventive, daring poetic meditation of a middle-aged couple's re-discovery of love. Nostalgia had ineluctably brought them back to Baritone Bay where they had first plunged into intimacy some thirty years ago. But Joseph and Celice had paid too heavy a price for their nostalgia: their lives.
The beginning is the end in Being Dead. The couple, hand in hand, and whose nakedness had subjected them to indignity, terminated their lives in each other's flesh in a manner marked by a placid love that only time can cultivate. The narration, like the love of Joseph and Celice, is utterly unsentimental and business-like, something that is preserved by habit and memory, not necessarily with flaming passion. The dreamy writing accentuates the serene mood of the novel while it de-emphasizes the dramatic deaths and the reckless physical aftermath. The tranquility of the crime scene, the intrepidness with which the lissom grass perked back up after removal of the corpses, the gradual disappearance of rectangle of time-paled grass, the absorption of blood into the soil and the equanimity of their daughter Syl downplay the horrible death but at the same time usurp the promptings of readers' hearts.

Being Dead transcends other contemporary works on the subject of death with its meditative, poetic monologue that dwells on life, love, and death. It is a literary treatise on an event, and the event is the death of a renowned zoologist and his wife in the midst of sand dunes at a remote beach. Being Dead is a literary event made possible by the author's naked daring.
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LibraryThing member JenneB
A strange and interesting little book. I don't think I'll get the image of the two dead people out of my head for a while, but not in a creepy way.
Reading in detail about the decomposition of someone's body is a weirdly intimate thing, kind of like getting stuck in an elevator with a stranger.
LibraryThing member technodiabla
With Being Dead, Jim Crace takes a very original look at death and love and life. It's almost micro-biotic. With utter calm, detachment, and beautiful prose he describes murder, death, and decomposition down to the cellular level. I enjoyed the story-- the past love life and marriage of the deceased. However, the whole theme of the book was quite depressing: people die and you don't know when but it could be just around the corner and you're going to turn into soil and everything else will keep going on without you. I don't know, that just depressed me, and I'm not typically sentimental. I wold definitely not recommend this for "older" people.
The marriage aspect of it was also the most unromantic perspective possible. Perhaps accurate, but sad all the same.
So I give the book credit for being unique and very well-written-- even beautiful, but it won't be for everyone. 3.25 stars
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
I read this years ago, and I just finished rereading it AND it's a perfect book (and quite creepy) for me.
LibraryThing member HighCountry
Lisa says: When anyone asks me, "What is your favorite book?", I do not hesitate before saying, Being Dead by Jim Crace. It's been my favorite since the moment I finished it years ago.

This is a book with alternating storylines involving the same characters, Joseph and Celice, a married couple who, at the beginning of the book, have gone to visit the same beach where they first made love 30 years earlier and are murdered. Interesting that the main characters die in the beginning? I thought so. And one of the storylines deals with the couple's murder.

The first storyline takes the reader from the murder, through an hour by hour, day by day, journey through what happens to their corpses as the lay on the sand dunes, decaying for several days before being found. Does that seem morbid or uncomfortable? You might think so, but Crace writes it so well that it's simply fascinating.

The second storyline is a backwards history of the couple's life together, starting with the trip to the beach and going backwards through their lives together, and then further back to their childhoods.

The most wonderful thing happens in this novel. These are average, ordinary people and spending so much time contemplating their deaths and the decaying of their bodies might well cause a reader to feel apprehensive or uncomfortable. We're human. We can't help but consider our own deaths and what will someday happen to our bodies while reading this. But, Crace sets up the structure in such a way that there is this wonderful "relief" for the reader. You get a break from the dead bodies decaying, from the murder and the detectives, and you get to read this hopeful story in reverse - a story that gets more youthful and more hopeful as the characters grow younger, so that, by the end of the book, it doesn't feel like Joseph and Celice are dead at all. It feels like they are young and vibrant and have their whole lives ahead of them with no knowledge of what the future holds. It made me realize that part of the joy of youth is that mystery ahead, all the "possibility" that lies before each of us; all the questions and dreams.

This is a fabulous and unique novel and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
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