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.)
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.’
‘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.