Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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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.

Being Dead
Published: Penguin Group, 1999

JIM CRACE: I'm going to read the very last section of my novel, Being Dead, I'm very fond of this section and I suppose I'm fond of it not because I think it's necessarily any good but because I think any writer is fond of the point where a book ends, finding you've overcome all kinds of problems and you're tying all the loose ends up. And so I remember the meal of celebration I had when I finished the last sentence. This is an important paragraph to the book as well because it's a book about death. It's also a book about the way in which the natural world compensates for death. In fact it lives off death, if that's not a contradiction in terms. Here, at the end of the book, we have a description of our two dead, murdered characters. The people are Joseph and Celice—and the patch of white that their bodies [have] created on the grass where they've died. So this is a passage just about grass, I guess.

They left only a white and yellow patch of lissom grass (or angel bed, pintongue, sand hair, repose) where they had loved and died, framed by a tent-made rectangle of lesser green. The bodies had blocked out the light and flattened and indented the soft ground underneath. For almost six days the grass had had to live by root alone, scavenging for nutrients and minerals with its thin threads while its foliage was bleaching in the dark. Celice and Joseph's long and heavy shapes had robbed the grass of its free energy and left a vegetable ghost. It was as if someone had thrown down a ship's tarpaulin or dragged up a skein of seaweed into the dunes for use as fertilizer on the fields and then collected it, days later, to leave their soft denials in the grass. Each blade was tendril soft, as colourless and feeble as a day-old shoot, as lank and listless as cut straw. Some leaves were bent and scarred and some were torn. Others had been pressed into the sandy earth, to seem ingrowing, keen to burrow back. The worms and grubs that hated light had come up to the surface for a change to crawl and slide in these rare caverns, leaving their half-tunnels and their casts as decorations on the ground. The smell was like red wine; earthy, rich and fermenting.

But once the tent and bodies were removed, and once the unsustaining night had passed, the wounded lissom grass perked up. Hope springs eternal in the natural world. Its leaves and blades sprang straight again. They dragged their bodies from the gluey sand to face the morning. They latched their protein-eyes on daylight. They photosynthesized. The grass's stored supplies of water and carbon dioxide conspired with the thin light of that misty, cloudy day to make its carbohydrates and put back into the world its by-product of oxygen. At last its bludgeoned chloroplasts could go about their work, capturing the energy of the sunlight. They were the master craftsmen of the grass, the conjurors of chlorophyll. Gradually, as dawn was thickening, as day grew fat to slumber through the heavy afternoon, the pigments of the vegetable scar, its corpse stretched out across the grass, returned. By dusk the rectangle of time-paled lissom grass had gone. By dusk, next day, the ghost was sappy at its tips, and only yellow lower down where the leaves were closest to their stems. After that the lissom darkened, day after day. Spring green, then apple green. And bottle green. Envy green, and green as grass.

By final light on the ninth day since the murder all traces of any life and love that had been spilt had disappeared. The natural world had flooded back. The brightness of the universe returned. If there was any blood left in the soil from Joseph and Celice's short stay in the dunes then it could only help to fortify the living murmur of the grass.

And still, today and every day, the dunes are lifted, stacked and undermined. Their crests migrate and reassemble with the wind. They do their best to raise their backs against the weather and the sea and block the wind-borne sorrows of the world. All along the shores of Baritone Bay and all the coast beyond, tide and tide, time after time, the corpses and the broken, thinned remains of fish and birds, or barnacles and rats, of molluscs, mussels, crabs are lifted, washed and sorted by the waves. And Joseph and Celice enjoy a loving an unconscious end, beyond experience. These are the everending days of being dead.