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Jim Crace - Being Dead
The novel "Being Dead" is written by Jim Crace and was published in 1999. The story is set in Great Britain, at Baritone Bay. The time of action changes from chapter to chapter, because the novel's structure is fourfold. One might say that there are four different plots. In the first chapter Crace presents a situation: Two bodies are laying dead at Baritone Beach, they are killed. From there on the author divides the story.
One strand moves backwards from the point of the murder. It takes a time period of exactly one day, the day of the murder. The reader is given exact times about it. Joseph wakes up at 7.05 a.m. Normally he has to work, but it is a nice day and he "wants to make the most of it". So he decides to wait till his wife, Celice, wakes up for going to the beach with her, where they first made sex almost 30 years ago. He phones the Institute he works in and leaves a messages on the answerphone for his secretary that he will not come into his office that day. He adds that he might not come for the next two days either. Actually his wife does not want to go with him. One of her colleagues died in a study house at the beach these 30 years ago, and she does not want to go there again. But Joseph persuades her to come with him. So they go there at noon. The well-worn path, which has been there when they were students, has disappeared, so it is not easy to walk there. The area is developed by business people from the town who want to build a new housing complex there. They removed most of the granite flagstones of former days, but some are still there. At 1.20 p.m. Celice reflects about Festa, her colleague who died there. She wants to go home, but she stays, because her husband can persuade her again. They go on. From there on they are followed by a man. They leave the coastal track and walk through the dunes, because they search silence, and they know that there will be nobody. The young man, who wants to rob them, cannot follow them and loses their way. Celice and Joseph settle down behind the dunes for making love at 3.20 p.m. The young man searches for them. After a while he almost gives up hope, but then he hears loud noises from behind the dunes. He takes a piece of granite, finds the couple and batters them to death. He takes their stuff and leaves the place. At 3.50 p.m. the couple is alone at the beach, dead, but Joseph's hand still touches her.
The second strand takes place 30 years earlier. Six young students, Joseph, Celice, Festa, Hanny, Victor and Birdie, live together in a study house. Celice is looking for a lover. She watches the men and thinks that she can just choose between Hanny, Victor and Birdie. She does not like Joseph very much in the beginning. But as time goes by, she more and more realises that Joseph would be the best for her. Joseph is attracted by her at once. They realise that they have same interests and opinions and start flirting. After a couple of days they go down to the beach and have sex. At the same time the study house burns down, because Celice has forgotten to switch of a gas lamp over night. The three men can escape, but Festa dies in the flames.
The third strand describes the physical changes and processes of decay on Joseph's and Celice's naked bodies. They are immediately found by a beetle, "Claudatus maximi". Then, attracted by the fresh wounds and the smell of urine, swag flies and crabs use their bodies as food. In the end a gull and many other animals reach the couple's bodies and disfigure them. Apart from that, the normal decay of a dead body leaves its mark. In the end they look really decomposed, laying dead at the beach.
The fourth and final strand explains the couple's daughter way to find her missing parents. At first nobody seems to miss Joseph and Celice, but after a few days Joseph's secretary tries to phone them. Since she does not get them, she phones their daughter Syl, who works as a waitress in a town hundreds of miles away from Baritone Bay. She makes her way home and starts searching for her parents. She stays in her parents' house together with a young man she has met at the station. She uses him as a chauffeur, because she has no money for taxis. The man, who has fallen in love with Syl immediately, would do anything for her. For repaying him for being her chauffeur she sleeps with him. They go to the police and to the city morgue, but they do not find her parents. After some days they get to know that the police has found a killed couple down at the beach. She goes there and realises that this dead couple are her parents.
These four strands are constantly interrupting each other. The reader must combine the stories for getting the whole plot and understanding the novel.
In the novel exist two main characters: Joseph and Celice. Both are middle-aged biologists, "doctors of zoology", in their 50's. Celice is 18 months older than Joseph. They live at Baritone Bay and have one daughter, Syl. Her daughter lives far away from them, because she searches her freedom and wants to live separated from her parents. Nowadays their love is preserved "by habit and by memory".
In her student time Celice is a tall, small-breasted woman, mostly dressed like a man. Her upper body and her waist are slim, her thighs and buttocks were much heavier. She has the figure of a pigeon or a pear and takes large steps. She drinks, smokes and has a loud laugh. In former days she was not prudish. She had three boyfriends and only slept with one. She was reading all the time. But then she changed, and now she is more interested in sex than in books. After graduating she becomes part-time tutor at the university. She is dissatisfied with her life and has no fear of death. She always tries to take scientific views of death and does not think that human beings play an important role in nature. That is what she wants to teach her students: " Life's only, say, up to ninety years for creatures such as you and I. We're less than turtles. We have to die before they do. We must. It's programmed that we will. Our births are just the gateway to our deaths. That's why a baby screams when it is born. [...] They who begin to live begin to die. It's downhill from the womb, from when the sperm locates the egg and latches on."
Joseph is much smaller than Celice and is quiet in conversation, but he has the voice of someone twice his size when he sings. "He might have hardly opened his mouth in conversation all evening, but he'd still be singing when everyone else, having faked a verse or two, had fallen silent." He wakes up very early and likes reading. But one might call him cold, spoiled and snobbish. He is director of the Tidal Institute and his students do not like him. He is anxious about his life and nervous that all the hard-earned certainties might disappear. He is afraid of death and sees the marriage with Celice as a success.
The novel "Being Dead" deals with several different topics. First, it is supposed to entertain the readers, like almost every novel. But apart from that, it also deals with some serious issues. For example it is about human violence and crime. The author tries to make clear that the world has become much more dangerous in the last decades. You cannot feel safe anywhere nowadays. But "Being Dead" is also about animal natures and vegetation. Jim Crace describes in many chapters animal's life and how they survive. He also tries to find an order of living things and what they all value. All these issues are more or less minor, but here are some major issues in the novel, too. First, Crace wants to show the power of love. He points out that love is strong enough to survive everything, even death. ("they were still man and wife [...] , dead, but not departed yet") Another major issue is death. "Death" plays an important role in the whole context. Crace shows that nobody can hide from death and that you never know when it will happen. So the reader finds many tragic deaths in the whole novel. Joseph and Celice as the "main" deaths, but also Festa's death. She dies in a burning house because Celice has not switched of the gas lamp. Apart from these deaths two cousins of Joseph have died in a traffic accident, a neighbour's son has got a heart attack while out cycling and one of Celice's colleagues at the university has committed suicide. That shows that death can be very tragic and that you can never be prepared for it. That suicide alludes to a last issue, namely sense of life, the value of human being in the world and if there is anything beyond death.
So, "Being Dead" is not only entertaining the reader. Jim Crace wants the reader to think about life and death, love and crime. The novel is more serious than it seems to be.
I have really enjoyed reading this novel. First it is a bit confusing to read it, because Crace always presents a different plot from chapter to chapter. But it gets interesting to put all these chapters together like a puzzle. And that is what makes the novel special. It is not like every other novel about a murder, a journey from crime to detection to punishment. On the contrary, the killer in "Being Dead" is perhaps the least important character. It is maybe like a new generation of writing, different to all those traditional writing styles. That is what makes the novel interesting, especially for young people. It is something new. The reader does not get bored in that novel, and Crace has written the plot without any boring or uninteresting passages. The novel only consists of a bit more than 200 pages, not many for a novel. I think that "Being Dead" is really worth reading, especially for people who do not like traditional novels, which all seem to be the same. Jim Crace's novel does not deal with anything new, but the style of writing and the novel structure is new and interesting. I really like "Being Dead" and I can really advise everybody to read it.
- Quote paper
- Martin Seiler (Author), 2000, Crace, Jim - Being Dead, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/98673