Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’: a book to bring a nation to its knees (in every sense of the word)

Every intelligent person should have a copy of Justin Cronin’s The Passage by their bed. If an intruder comes into your room in the dead of night and you want to hurl a book at them to defend yourself, this is definitely the one you should reach for. As far as heavy, potentially lethal missiles go, The Passage is unparalleled and I recommend it without reservation.  At nearly 800 pages, it would also make a fabulous doorstop. Or a paperweight. Or, if there should come a point in the future where humankind is forced to use books for toilet paper or fuel, you would certainly want to have it on hand then. I would probably not advise its use in deportment classes though: walking around with it balanced on your head would most likely cause serious spinal damage.

As you might have worked out, The Passage is a great big brick of a book. To be more precise, it’s roughly the size of two and a half bricks. If I had a standard house brick on hand, I would photograph the book beside it as visual evidence. Lacking a brick, I’ve taken the liberty of photographing it beside the cat. 

And, to give you some idea of how large the cat is, this is a photo of her taken on our most recent holiday.

So you can see, it really is a book to bring a nation to its knees. I had to buy a new handbag in order to carry it with me on the bus to work (more a beach bag than a handbag, technically.)  I have also seen some women dragging it behind them in a small handcart or hiring unemployed Sherpas to walk alongside them with it.

…But never mind how heavy it is, I hear you cry out in exasperation. What actually is this book you’re talking about? What is it about? Why all this fuss about it? Well, clearly, you don’t work in either bookselling or publishing because The Passage is the must-read book of the moment. The first in a trilogy, it has been touted as the ‘literary thriller’ of the decade, a novel  that will appeal to fans of both Stephen King  and Cormac McCarthy .

The author, Justin Cronin, a Professor of English and previous winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, reportedly wrote the series to impress his 13-year-old daughter, Iris (who hopefully has a longer attention span than most teenagers of that age.)  This seems to have been a solid career move for him: the trilogy sold to Ballantine Books in America for an alleged $3.75 million in a massive bidding war and had an initial print run of 250,000. Already, the film rights have been optioned by Ridley Scott for $1.75 million. It’s published in Australia by Hachette and in the two months it’s been released, has sold around 19,000 copies.

I’m not going to reveal too much about the plot other than to say it’s a post-apocalyptic  vampire novel  in the same vein (ha!) as Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Very much in the same vein. In fact, I suspect its the same series compressed into three volumes and published under a different heading.

If you want to learn more about it, you can have a look at the series website here. Alternately, there’s a good review on James Bradley’s blog which some of you may have read a few week’s back in the weekend Herald.

I’m not really a fan of paranormal fiction generally, but I was keen to read this to see if it lived up to all the hype.  The first thing that struck me about it was that it was frightfully good value from a net weight perspective.  I paid $35 for it, which works out at roughly 80c a kilo. Compare this to most titles today where you’ll be paying an average of $92 for one kilo of literature. (I’m not just estimating this amount, please note. I actually used my kitchen scales to weigh a random selection of current novels, calculated the weight against the RRP and then made a spreadsheet of the results: I’m nothing if not scientific in my methods.)

Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn: particularly poor value, weighing in at only 2oogms with an RRP of $22.99

Factoring in that the average person allegedly reads 3.7 books per year, and that the average book is around 220 pages long, at 766 pages long, The Passage represents nearly a year’s worth of reading for under $40.  In today’s financially-straitened times then, it makes quite an economical purchase and certainly gets the ‘thrifty thumbs up’ from me (an indicator of merit devised several seconds ago for the purposes of this post.)

I’m not going to probe too deeply into the question of whether The Passage actually is more ‘literary’ than standard vampire fare. Here’s a few quotes that should make the answer quite clear:

‘Don’t you understand ,’ Richards said quietly, ‘that I’d shoot you right here to put a smile on this man’s face?’

Paulson’s body had gone rigid. ‘What the f..k?’ he sputtered against the clenching muscles of his throat. He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing  up against the muzzle of the gun.

‘I’m cool, I’m cool.’

‘Anthony,’ Richard said, his eyes still fixed on Paulson’s, ‘it’s your call my friend. You tell me, is he cool?’ .

…Yes, reminiscent of Virginia Woolf at her most lyrical. (And highly appropriate reading for a 13-year-old.)

Here’s another example:

‘The grenade went off, taking out the front of the chalet, but Richards heard this only vaguely … as he experienced the sensation, utterly new to him, of being torn in half.’ 

Pure Dickens.  

Or finally:

‘Wolgast turned in time to see the creature that had once been Anthony Carter fall upon his partner like a giant mouth.’

See? – He uses a simile so it has to be literary. 

I have to admit that I didn’t actually finish the book. It wasn’t the writing that deterred me, however, but the weight factor. I’d been starting to notice my neck and shoulders aching in the evenings, then I was off work a few days back with a terrible migraine – something I don’t usually suffer from. It was lugging that stupid book around that caused it, I decided. So on page 502 I decided I’d had enough. It’s probably better that way: I’d have had to wait until 2012 for the next part anyway.

And just in case this post has made you eager to sample The Passage for yourself, you can read the first 15 pages here. 



About bakersdaughterwrites

What to say? I’m a 30-something year old woman from Sydney notorious for changing her mind. I have a cat named Seraphina Nightingale, whic
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18 Responses to Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’: a book to bring a nation to its knees (in every sense of the word)

  1. Brenda Lock says:

    How about taking a stanley knife, dividing the book into two or three by carefully cutting between the thread that ties one section and the next. And Hey Presto, you can read it in small sections. We do that to all BIG books we take when travelling or want to read in bed. Then 2-4 people can end up reading it at the same time. Note the “end up” bit or you could end in a dreadful fight. Works well for us. But Ron reads at a quarter the speed that I do, so I finish the lot as he is getting to the end of section. But I don’t like the sound of The Passage somehow, so we’ll give it a miss… Brenda.

    • Sounds like a sensible idea, Brenda – but I couldn’t bear to take a knife to a book – it seems like violence and mutilation of the most shocking kind! Thanks for your comments – I did see your earlier one but wasn’t able to approve it for some reason. Maybe too long?

      Do you read crime by any chance? ( I’m picking you as a crime reader.) There’s a new Australian crime novelist writing books set in South Africa in the 1950’s which are meant to be quite good – Malla Nunn is her name and I think the first is ‘A Beautiful Place to Die.’ Thought you might find it interesting.

  2. Michael says:

    Why don’t you rip out the pages as you read them? Then your neck and shoulders won’t have to take too much strain.
    It will also give people on the train something to look at.

  3. Brilliant! But technically littering, unless I then carried the ripped out pages with me which would rather defeat the purpose. And I think the people on the bus get enough entertainment from me already. (The other day I was struggling to pull my wallet out of my overfull bag so I could get out my ticket, when a box of tampons came flying out and landed in some poor man’s lap. He was very perturbed by it by the rest of the bus seemed to find it amusing.)
    I’m surprised that you of all people didn’t just suggest I get an e-reader! This was your prime opportunity!

  4. Baker says:

    Whatever happened to Gibbons’ ‘History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ or Shirer’s ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’? These surely set the benchmark for length – and dealt with weighty subjects to boot rather than airy-fairy, post-apocalyptic, vampiric worlds. Moreover, two of these were probably written with quill pens, whereas our underemployed Professor of English Literature undoubtedly moonlighted (ha!) on one of his Department’s high speed word processors.

    No, I tend to discount Prof. Cronin’s achievement and suggest he would be wise to stop at Vol. 1 – unless of course he’s simply after the money.

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  6. Rachel says:

    This review made me laugh. I actually really enjoyed this book. I still think is the best review I have read about it though.

  7. Kinna says:

    Wonderful review. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book. After your review, I’ll definitely pass. I’m not into series made up chunksters!

    • Thank you for visiting – and for introducing me to a new term, chunksters – it sounds like some type of frozen meat pie snack for lumberjacks. Or really big sneakers. In defence of thick series books though, I have to say that I recently finished the Patrick Ness Chaos Walking books which are all quite hefty but absolutely brilliant.

  8. litlove says:

    Hilarious review. Not my genre at all so I’m not likely ever to read it, but I do appreciate the thought of books as a serious form of self-defence. At Christmas my father tends to choose me books from my amazon wish list on the basis of value for pages – I guess with my list you have to have some sort of criteria for deciding.

  9. mee says:

    Does the average person read 3.7 books a year? Well that makes me feel better as I read 10 times that per year, even though I always feel I don’t read enough :). Also the number is better than average 1 book per year for the Americans I read somewhere last time.

  10. That’s what the cat told me – although her figures aren’t always reliable. Thanks for visiting!

  11. I hate vampires!!! says:

    I attempted to read the first Twilight book…bah!

    I have since remained steadfast in my refusal to read one of the plethora of vampire novels that have suddenly filled the shelves of bookshops!

    And then I picked up this one…not actually realising it was even remotely ‘vampirical’ (else I wld have of course waved garlic and a cross at it as I backed quickly out of the bookshop!)

    I have just finished it…and I liked it.

    I have read James Bradley’s review (http://cityoftongues.com/2010/07/24/dracula-meets-the-road-in-justin-cronins-the-pasage/) – I agree entirely with his conclusion –

    “For while Cronin’s control of his narrative occasionally falters, and there are moments where the writing strains towards a lyricism it cannot sustain, the book as a whole is never less than disgracefully, compulsively enjoyable. Indeed so addictive is its allure that my chief reaction, even after almost 800 close-set pages, was disappointment that the sequel is not already available.”

    My thoughts exactly!!!

    Loved your review Bakersdaughter (and LOVED the size comparison with your cat! 😉 )

    This book fit in my (recently bought) lovely new handbag…tho it IS one of those big handbags…:)

    I agree – I think that many of the characters were underdeveloped (particularly Amy)…however hopefully this is something Cronin will work on in the next title. I also think it could have done with a lot tighter editing – but mayhap having Sir Ridley Scott waving almost $4million plus a publishing deal of nearly $2million forced him to hurry it along somewhat!

    I still hate vampire books, movies whatever…but yes, I will be keeping an eye out for the release date of the next book in the trilogy!

    Definitely worth a read

    (not an e-read…dirty word that one!!! 😉 )

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