Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup
Search Collections

Jim Crace Reading from his Works

Hear British writer Jim Crace read from some of his prize-winning works, including the novel Being Dead, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Quarantine, the Whitbread Novel of the Year and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Crace provides an intro to each reading.

The Ransom Center acquired Crace's archive in the spring of 2008.



The Devil's Larder
Published: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001

JIM CRACE: This is a title-less story. In fact, it's the first story from my odd collection of stories, The Devil's Larder. A collection of stories, 64 stories, all about food. But not really about food. I wouldn't recommend you tried any of these as recipes. But about the way that food has a dark side. Or the way that food has a sociable side. The way in which our lives are mediated over meals and over cooking food. So, this is not something you should take into the kitchen and try and prepare. But it is—this particular story is about the dark side of mysterious food.


Someone has taken off—and lost—the label on the can. There are two glassy lines of glue with just a trace of stripped paper where the label was attached. The can's batch number—RG2JD 19547—is embossed on one of the ends. Top or bottom end? No one can tell what's up or down. The metal isn't very old.

They do not like to throw it out. It might be salmon—not cheap. Or tuna steaks. Or rings of syruped pineapple. Too good to waste. Guava halves. Lychees. Leek soup. Skinned Italian plum tomatoes. Of course, they ought to open up the can and have a look, and eat the contents there and then. Or plan a meal around it. It must be something that they like, or used to like. It's in their larder. It had a label once. They chose it in the shop.

They shake the can up against their ears. They sniff at it. They compare it with the other cans inside the larder to find a match in size and shape. But still they cannot tell if it is beans or fruit or fish. They are like children with unopened birthday gifts. Will they be disappointed when they open up the can? Will it be what they want? Sometimes their humour is macabre: the contents are beyond description—baby flesh, sliced fingers, dog waste, worms, the venom of a hundred mambas—and that is why there is no label.

One night when there are guests and all the wine has gone, they put the can into the candlelight amongst the debris of their meal and play the guessing game. An aphrodisiac, perhaps; "Let's try." A plague. Should they open up and spoon it out? A tune, canned music, something never heard before that would rise from the open can, evaporate, and not be heard again. The elixir of youth. The human soup of DNA. A devil or a god? It's tempting just to stab it with a knife. Wound it. See how it bleeds. What is the colour of the blood? What is its taste?

We all should have a can like this. Let it rust. Let the rims turn rough and brown. Lift it up and shake it if you want. Shake its sweetness or its bitterness. Agitate the juicy heaviness within. The gravy heaviness. The brine, the soup, the oil, the sauce. The heaviness. The choice is wounding it with knives, or never touching it again.