Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Passage, Justin Cronin

I like The New Dork Review of Books, and just before the rapture was scheduled, read his post on the best of the post-apocalyptic books.  Now, I love me a good end of the world story!  The Stand (Stephen King) is one of my go-to books, and I've read fairly widely in the field over the years.  But not lately, which is why there were several grand suggestions in the NDR list and comments I thought I'd try out.  So I'm blaming him for the reading jag I've been on since. 

The Passage was the first of my post-apocalypse reads, I finished it off in short order on our recent holiday.  I figured it would be a good last read in case of rapture ;)

The Passage is the first in a series (three, I think) of books by Justin Cronin about the fate of humankind after a virus gets loose and kills nearly turning them into vampires (not a spoiler, this is made pretty clear in the very first pages of the book).  Don't let the immediate eye-roll of "vampires" put you off.  These are not sparkly, well-dressed debonairs.  Think more 28 Days Later over Twilight.  The Passage is a tale of surviving in the face of a weird virus that meant the end of the world story, not a teen romance. 

The book starts with some of the story of how it all happened, then, kind of disappointingly, skips ahead 100 years to focus on a small settlement eking out a living under lights.  I say disappointing because one of the bits I love in this kind of book is the slow descent into madness of civilisation, and the unravelling of our illusions of behaviour, which I felt was pretty much skipped in this novel. Those are still key themes, of course, isn't that the point of a rollicking post-apocalyptic novel?  Telling us how many of our dearly held beliefs about ourselves and our limits are (or might be) illusions?  But the close telling of the decline was skipped in this one.  *sad face*  Instead, after the initial outbreak, our story skips to a small, fractured community living behind walls and thinking they are the only ones left in all the world (read: America). 

The Passage focusses on the fate of one girl, Amy, infected with a "pure" strain of the virus (also not really a spoiler, her fate and role is foreshadowed very early in the book), and destined to play some central role in the climax of the virus-infected vs normals.  The bulk of the book is a crossing the wilderness story, some of the survivors set out to travel back to where the virus all began, and tells what they encounter on the way.

The swap between the immediate-aftermath novel and the 100-years-later novel was more than a little jarring, despite the journal entry that was meant to transition us gently.  I had become very involved in the central story of Amy and her companion, this was rapidly wound up (too rapidly I think) and replaced with a whole new world and cast to acclimatise to.  It felt like two separate books, and only started to tie back together in the final chapters.  While I enjoyed both parts of the book, it suffered from the lack of a transition phase, and the first part of the book was brought to too quick a finish.  This missing phase could have taken us through more of the collapse of civilisation, some of the efforts of survivors, maybe some vignettes to get us through to the next phase of the action. 

The Passage is well worth a read.  It's a gripping page-turner, a medical emergency and survival story, followed by a journey across the wilderness in the face of overwhelming odds, with a dash of light at the end of the tunnel.  It's bleak, but not hopeless.  If you like a tale about the end of the world as we know it, or enjoy a virus/vampire book, or liked The Stand, or just want a good story that's well written about the darknesses (and lightnesses) of the human soul, pick up a copy!  I'm looking forward to the release of the next installment...


This was a Kindle for iPad read.


Kristi said...

I haven't read this one yet, but I think The Road kind of turned me off. Your summary of this one kind of reminded me of The Road except in the The Road, you never do find out what caused the apocalypse, but just see the after effects. It's really more about human nature than what happened to the world so it sounds similar in some ways.

I might give this one a try. I like that it's not hopeless. I didn't realize that it was a series.

Selene said...

The Road is on my list to read on my post-apocalyptic reading frenzy (lol), maybe I'll be frustrated about never finding out what caused it all.

I only realised The Passage was a series when it finished, and I was wondering what happened to the rest of the story. Apparently there are another two books planned.

Belgie said...

The book is well plotted. Cronin always keeps two or three pots simmering on the stove in the familiar tradition relied on by many good story tellers. He correctly ends each section with a twist that heats up the plot. Yet the material between these hooks is often only lukewarm. As each section ends, Cronin again turns up the heat, getting the reader's full attention, and then - he switches to the next pot on the stove. We swim again in lukewarm waters. Yes, I want to keep reading, but only so I can find out what will happen in the section I just finished. Cronin then turns the screw a few more times, enough to warm the waters, and suddenly I'm interested in the story he is now telling - only to find him switching over to the third pot on the stove. It is all very neatly done, as if Cronin were working from a very well crafted outline, all cleverly designed to keep me turning pages, but not designed to fully engage the heart of either the reader or the author.