Winner of the Whitbread Novel of the Year and a Booker Prize finalistTwo thousand years ago four travellers enter the Judean desert to fast and pray for their lost souls In the blistering heat and barren rocks they encounter the evil merchant Musa — madman, sadist, rapist, even a Satan — who holds them in his tyrannical power Yet there is also another, a faint figure in the distance, fasting for forty days, a Galilean who they say has the power to work miracles Here, trapped in the wilderness, their terrifying battle for survival begins Reading Jim Grace I feel like he’s very aware of writing in a kind of oral tradition He’s very attentive to the music and the rhythm of the way that sentences sound like Even though he uses simple vocabulary the percussion of each sentence is very complicated and Jim Grace attends to it very closely There’s always a drum beat running through his sentences They are so musically and rhythmically based that you almost want to tap your feet to them I was really charmed by this story It started off with five pilgrims including Jesus venturing out into the Judean desert for a forty day quarantine They choose caves not far apart from each other to spend their quarantine in and search for enlightenment or purification For the quarantiners are hoping to cleanse themselves of madness, cancer and infertility What follows is a period of fasting and praying and in due course the tired and thirsty pilgrims become afflicted with religious and spiritual hallucinations And dark visions Now I was under the impression that this book was very close to the traditional story of Jesus in the wilderness even though Jesus in this book was portrayed as a human with human failings I don’t know much about the bible Quarantine looked to me like the most real story about the origin of Jesus and the Christian religion I thought that Jim Grace could only be a devout Christian but reading up on him I've discovered that he is actually a staunch atheist and this book is not written from the Christian perspective at all In fact, the idea for this story came to Jim Grace from a dark and troubled place down the road from where he used to live This place was a hostel for patients with mental health problems The patients used to wander around his suburb and fascinate Jim Grace with their stories and illnesses One day he sneaked into this hostel which consisted of tiny rooms like cells occupied by a community of depressives, addicts, obsessives and schizophrenics Jim Grace wanted to write about this community but instead of setting it in Birmingham he was looking for a parallel; a place where he could set that subject matter which would dislocate the reader He is after all a fabulist writer One day his friends who were visiting Palestine sent him a postcard of the Mount of Temptation This was the place where the historical Christ spent his forty days of battling with the devil In this postcard he noticed lots of caves and it occurred to him that at the time of Christ anyone who had a problem, any depressive, addict or obsessive, not just the Son of God, might have taken to these caves to battle with their demons And this became the parallel to the hostel down his road Indeed in Jim Grace’s Quarantine Jesus’ prayers seemlike epileptic fits rather than communications with God. They were amazed at all the stories he could tell He’d come from forty days of quarantine up in the wilderness He hadn’t drunk or eaten anything He’d gone up thin and come back fat, thanks to god’s good offices He’d shared his cave with angels and messiahs; he’d met a healer and a man who could make bread from stones.One of the travellers gave Musa food to eat Another let him ride inside his donkey cart He sat on bales of scrub hay, his fat legs hanging off the back What little sun there was came from the summit of the precipice Musa looked up to the scree, shading his eyes against the light, and checked the spot where he had left his worldly goods He was alarmed for an instant There was somebody climbing down towards his hiding place, half hidden in the shade A man or woman? Musa was not sure Whoever it was did not stop to search amongst the rocks, but hurried down across a patch of silvery shale Now Musa had a clearer view; a thin and halting figure tacking the scree, almost a mirage–ankleless, no arms–in the lifting light Musa shouted to his new companions ‘Look there,’ he said ‘That’s the one I mentioned to you The healer Risen from the grave.’How about that! I read that passage earlier this Easter morning, a day associated with the end of the fasting period in the Christian Church, and with resurrection The book gods are good to me surely. Jim Crace's short novel Quarantine was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997, but did not win it lost to The God of Small Things Despite not being a long novel the Penguin edition clocks in at just 243 pages Quarantine aims to achieve a high goal: retell the story of Jesus's 40 day sojourn in the desert and his temptation by the Devil.The problem with retellings of wellknown stories is precisely the fact that they are well known the author has to show a certain degree of invention to make up for that fact It can be done by adapting the story to the modern setting, which is what Francis Ford Coppola did to Heart of Darkness and created Apocalypse Now) Many foreign films have been remade for the American market, keeping the story but localizing the cast and setting Crace does not take this road his work is set in the Judaean Desert 2000 years ago but the story does not follow the Biblical gospels Crace's Jesus is all too human: he has no divine aspirations, and came to the desert to fast and grow closer to God He throws himself totally at his mercy with no food and water and little shelter guided only by his faith.Crace's Jesus is only one of several characters driven to the remoteness of the desert The novel features six other characters, all of whom interact with Jesus in some way: the most interesting and important is Musa, a greedy trader and abusive man who was left in the desert by his partners to die a slow death, sickness eating him from the inside He is accompanied by Miri, his pregnant wife who eagerly awaits his death Although he is the most important person of the scene, Jesus is not the main character in fact he is mostly seen through the eyes of others, who all project themselves onto him and see him through their needs These characters are essential for Jesus to fulfill his destiny Musa will come in contact with Jesus, and will be touched by him all the people will be touched by Jesus in one way or another, and the impact he had on them will have consequences for the whole world.Crace's writing has the dreamlike and hazy quality, almost hallucinatory, appropriate for the setting and theme; he focuses on the miniscule detail of the wilderness of the desert, its animals, plants and insects Folk beliefs of the times and people play an important part: Musa's sickness is understood to have been caused by a devil who snuck inside him through his mouth, and lit a fire under his chest In 2011 I've read Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ , which I thought was a fantastic retelling of the story of Jesus and a fable of the rise of Christianity (and a controversial one, too, resulting in hate threats of damnation being sent to the author) In his work, Pullman not focused his story on Jesus he split him into two distinct persons, Jesus and Christ, which I thought worked splendidly and his book impacted me greatly something which I did not expect and was verypleasantly surprised by I felt that Jim Crace's book lost potential impact by letting Jesus be seen largely through the eyes of other characters; they themselves are well drawn and interesting (especially Musa), but you just can't compete with the Messiah I mean, how often do you really get to see the Son of God up close and personal?In the end, found Quarantine to be a fablelike novel, stylishly written and full of symbolism, but constrained by the story it took upon itself which is well known and holds few surprises even for those who do not know their Bible It entered the canon of literary stories of Jesus done by writers as different as Anne Rice and Norman Mailer but I'm afraid that for all its quality if will remain in the background precisely because of its gentleness and meekness, overshadowed bydaring and controversal projects. Now this is how you write a gripping book.Quarantine is what you might call a novel of ideas It seeks to give an account of Jesus' fortyday sojourn in the desert and to explain how Christianity (or, if you will, the cult of Christ) came into being While it's not overly blasphemous, it does present its theories in a way to which people who take the New Testament very literally might object See, for one thing, Crace's Jesus is not the Son of God, but rather a clumsy and all too human carpenter who takes his faithseriously than his work; for another, he is not actually the main character of the novel, nor even its most interesting character That honour goes to Musa, surely one of the most fascinating villains in twentiethcentury literature.Quarantine is about the (apparently common in Biblical times) act of quarantining i.e., secluding oneself in the desert for a while to meditate and commune with God Jesus is only one of several characters who, on the first day of the story, arrive in an inhospitable part of the wilderness to take up lodgings in some barren caves and begin meditating He's different from the other quarantiners, though While the others only fast during the day and aren't averse to talking to each other when not meditating, Jesus is determined not to eat or drink anything for forty days and to stay completely on his own But before he retreats into his cave, he touches a dying man, Musa, who promptly recovers Needless to say, Musa is convinced Jesus is a miraculous healer, and tries to get him out of his cave to talk But Jesus refuses, believing Musa is a devil come to tempt him And so a fascinating battle of wills begins, which quickly works its way to a haunting (and remarkably plausible) conclusion Crace is a fabulous writer His metaphorladen prose has a breathtaking, occasionally hallucinatory quality (especially in the marvellous second half of the book), and his descriptions of pretty much anything are superb His Judean desert is an exciting place, so vivid it almost becomes a character in itself His descriptions of fasting and what it does to one's body and mind are terrifying (Trust me, after reading this book you'll never consider hunger striking again.) Yet it's the characters who steal the show Jesus' struggle against temptation and hallucinations is rendered impressively, and ratherrealistically than the stories told about this in the Bible But while Jesus is important to the story for the effect he has on the other characters, he is not the most riveting character in the book That would be Musa, a tyrannical merchant with a frightful sense of entitlement and very little compassion for anyone, let alone a bunch of afflicted souls who have come to the desert to pray He's a nasty piece of work, is Musa, but Crace has drawn him so well that you find yourself fascinated by his exploits, even when he sets out, over the course of several pages, to plan the rape of the lone woman among the quarantiners (some of the most riveting prose I've ever come across) No, Musa is not Satan, but it's easy to see why Jesus believes he is He's rotten to the core, which makes what he does on the final page of the book all theextraordinary I found myself glued to the pages whenever the story was told from his point of view, admiring Crace for the skill with which he brought his antagonist to life without making you want to close the book in disgust The other perspectives are less impressive, but still entirely worth reading Crace can draw characters in just a few lines, and his way with words is such that the effect is quite dazzling He is quite the storyteller.So Do seek this book out, people Don't believe the baffling number of threestar reviews on this site; instead, check out the plethora of fivestar reviews on .co.uk (here) and remember that Quarantine was voted the Whitbread Novel of the Year and shortlisted for the Booker Prize Then read the book I promise you you won't regret it. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1997I first read this book shortly after the paperback was first published in the late 90s, and although I remember liking it, I remember very little of the detailed content So I welcomed the chance to reread it as part of The Mookse and the Gripes group's current project to revisit the 1997 Booker shortlist If anything I was evenimpressed that before, and it was interesting to pick up on what was discussed at the time of Crace's last book The Melody, about the way Crace uses imaginary locations as the settings for his books because he does not want to get bogged down with too much real world details This discussion mentions some invented natural elements that recur in several of his books, for example the tarbony tree.So this is very much a fictional book, but one that addresses well known religious themes and Biblical stories, and because Crace, like me, is an atheist, I had no problems with some of hiscontroversial and provocative choices, and can't speak for those with keener religious sensibilities.The starting point is the wellknown Biblical story of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness Crace was interested in bringing a modern scientific perspective to the question of what might happen if a real human tried to emulate him Although Jesus plays a part in the story, and is generally treated respectfully, Crace's story diverges a long way from the original.At the start of the book we meet Miri, the wife of Musa, a travelling merchant who has fallen ill while travelling across the wilderness with a larger group Thinking he is about to die, they leave the couple behind in their tent with just enough provisions to survive until the party returns Miri attempts to tend him, but the situation looks hopeless and she starts to dig a grave by hand Meanwhile 5 other travellers arrive, intending to use caves as homes for a religious quarantine period The first 4 are normal humans, and looking for divine help with domestic problems by fasting during daylight hours for 40 days, and the fifth, who remains apart from the rest of the group, is Jesus, looking to start hisextreme form of quarantine While Miri is at the grave site, Jesus visits Musa's tent, takes a little food and water and nurses Musa a little Meanwhile the grave starts to fill with groundwater, providing a vital source of water to the quarantiners, and Musa wakes up alone in his tent.Musa is very much the villain of the piece, and his miraculous recovery has consequences His merchant instincts lead him to find a way to exploit the other quarantiners, firstly by claiming to own the land and also by selling them some of the supplies he has in his tent He is an expert storyteller, and he soon has them all doing his bidding Musa is an abusive husband, and also covets Marta, a female quarantiner who is desperate for a child because her marriage is approaching the ten year point at which being childless becomes grounds for divorce.Jesus proves harder to crack he has found the most remote cave, only accessible by a risky scramble down a cliff face, and although Musa tries to tempt him with food and water, he refuses all sustenance, confident that his God will protect him.(view spoiler)[ Towards the end of the book, Jesus appears lifeless, and the quarantiners bury him, and start to disperse The others betray the fat Musa and escape without him Miri goes with Marta, who has been raped by Musa but believes herself to be pregnant The everresourceful Musa finds his own way out, and convinces himself he has seen Jesus twice since his apparent death He resolves to stop trading in material goods and concentrate on selling his storytelling (hide spoiler)] The inspiration for the book is the account in the Bible of Jesus's fast and temptation in the desert, as he was preparing himself for his ministry Five people are fasting in this story for various reasons, one of them named Jesus He is the only one who fasts both day and night, the others break their fast after sunset He is the only one not tempted, bullied or taken advantage of by the 'devil', here an unscrupulous merchant called Musa The story and characters are both excellent, but the way the author uses biblical sources mixed with normal life makes the book outstanding. Dervish fire, serpent's smiling face,Windcharred, cavedreamt, in fasting vow,Merchant goad, hunger for the now,Sere masters of the flesh, the base,Soulless, formless, hell's crackedshell space,From body hale now withered bough,Love's courses ne'er found room enow,To grow, bound in faith's carapace.Yep, that's ridiculous, but it truly is about all I can muster for Mr Crace, a writer who has never yet risen above soso for me, though I enter each book expecting big things If The Pesthouse is merely merely, I do believe I shall foreswear this gentleman's words for the foreseeable future. What has one to do in the desert? Why do pilgrims, sinners, hermits and saints go there? Why had Jesus gone to the wilderness?There was nothing else for Jesus to do, except to simplify his life Repentance, meditation, prayer Those were the joys of solitude They had sustained the prophets for a thousand years And they would be his daily companions He started rocking with each word of prayer, putting all his body into it, speaking it out loud, concentrating on the sound, so that no part of him could be concerned with lesser matters or be reminded of the fear, the hunger and the chill He seemed to find his adolescent rhapsodies The prayers were in command of him He shouted out across the valley, happy with the noise he made.But who is nearer to you, God or Devil? Who sends all the ordeals and temptations?He begged the devil to fly up and save him from the wind He'd almost welcome the devilthan god For the devil can be traded with, and exorcized But god is ruthless and unstable.Tyrants and God have the same nature – they are liars and they persuade their own purposes. Life's too short for this.Halfway into the book, it is gettinganduninteresting, as well as dull (though dull's okay for a desert retreat into the wilderness), with none of these contrived and token characters exceeding 2 dimensions, and Jesus being interesting only on account of being, well y'know, that Jesus! And so everyone's kind of hooked on him, for no apparent reason except that the script says so, and script is scripture Hah! Sure there's some merit in illustrating how remarkably unremarkable some episodes in Jesus's life would have been, but why go through all these pages, just to tell us that? It's not like anyone imagined that 40 days fasting in the wilderness was a spiritual vacation This whole gig might've made a better short story, than a mostly unsatisfactory novel (partly on account of its promise, of the nifty idea and swanky lit prize listing type) The prose is itself annoyingly wellwritten, though the desert doesn't accommodate all the description of scrag and scree and erm, scruff or whatnot, the geography's overstated, and there's not much else going on I liked Miri's hopes (before being miraculously dashed), and her loom But all in all, the whole project showed less promise than I was willing to sacrifice 100oddpages reading time on.