A regressive future is far more ominous than a progressive one. There is something distinctly unnatural about evolution undoing itself; something horribly unsettling in the inference that we’re going in a direction that needs to be undone –
The Pesthouse heightens the discomfort.
Even though it’s wonderfully written.
And even though it’s full of love.
It has taken me a while to take Jim Crace’s latest novel off the shelf. I was, I admit, a little concerned that The Pesthouse would be a tad hardcore for a sensitive soul and not, perhaps, the best bedtime material –
The latter was true and the former, irrelevant: the landscape – and the language – may be stripped bare, but the emotion certainly isn’t.
Like Riddley Walker and The Handmaid’s Tale and other futuristic books that turn the concept of what’s coming next on its head, The Pesthouse explores a future that is more akin to the past. It considers whether, rather than continuing along the road to a technically advanced and enhanced lifestyle, we’ll actually end up in a place that is familiar only in its destruction; a landscape that is recognisable – but without the accessories.
It makes you realise how artificial and dependent we’ve all become.
The world is a far crueller place when you take out the comforts of 21st century living and hide the framework of a civilisation. We wouldn’t last a minute –
It’s hard to read a futuristic novel without referring to the present. Once you’ve adjusted to being flung forward – only to boomerang right back – the ‘now’ is the only stable point of reference.
Maybe this is why The Pesthouse is so powerful? Crace takes us to the heart of destroyed America whilst the America of today is floating around in the background and constantly visible in the ruins that the protagonists trek through.
It’s a bleak vision, and an infected and rusty America would be a little too depressing to consider if it wasn’t for the touches of humanity that keep you turning the pages. Human nature – both the bad and the good – is the one consistent. Like a life line – for the protagonists and the readers – love is far stronger against a backdrop of desolation and cruelty.
And so, despite my initial concerns, I made it to the end. I got used to the uncomfortable terrain and the sparse language, and I accompanied Pigeon and Margaret East – and then back West –
Sometimes what you know and value is better than a pot of gold promise.
Sometimes, it’s easier to work out what you think about the world today through a refraction of tomorrow.
Tags: reading the world