Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Book review : The Passage - Justin Cronin
The first thing to say about this book is that it's huge - 790 pages - so if you're not an avid reader, the chances are that that may put you off. I'm a total bookworm so it didn't bother me at all, but even I complained a few times about it being so heavy it was making my wrists ache ! It's a remarkably easy read though and doesn't drag or seem long-winded.
The mysterious "Something is coming" message on the book cover doesn't really give you any idea of what to expect so I came to the book with a totally open mind. Right from the beginning, I was hooked. The characters were totally believable with such depth that it was easy to empathise with them and immediately care about what happened to them.
As I read on, I inwardly groaned as I realised that the story was turning into a novel about vampires. There has been so much hype recently over the whole Twilight series that I've refused to jump on the bandwagon and I feel like one of the only women in the current 15-40 age range who doesn't get excited about pointy teeth ! There have been so many really bad vampire movies in the past too that as soon as I hear the word, I'm expecting something totally ridiculous and unbelievable and badly portrayed.
But Justin Cronin has laid out such a plausible and emotionally intense opening section to his book that I found myself reading on, gripped by the storyline and accepting the suspension of disbelief needed to wholly empathise with his characters. As if distancing himself from all the other vampire novels and films, the author almost entirely avoids the use of the word vampires and talks instead of "jumps". This new breed of super-vampires has evolved from a scarily plausible beginning : a group of terminally-ill cancer patients, on a "dreams come true" charity trip of a lifetime, are attacked by vampire bats in the Bolivian jungle and miraculously get better. Scientists, including one who lost his wife to cancer, desperately try to use this discovery to create a cure for cancer. In need of essential funding, they allow the military to take over control of the project - I smiled as the military plan of sending vampires into the network of Taliban caves was evoked ! Taking the "all's fair in love and war" mentality to its extreme, a group of people (mainly homeless people or criminals on Death Row) are willingly infected and turned into super-vampires in a research facility - and when they escape, the widescale death and destruction means that it's the end of life as we know it.
The book starts in the modern day but covers several generations of families and a hundred years, so they look back at our modern world as ancient history. It blends elements of science fiction, fantasy and horror, all genres I'm not overly keen on, but wraps them up in an epic tale of love, survival and humanity. The characters are totally believable and there are so many twists and turns, I was gripped until the very end.
It is quite unlike any other book I have ever read, but it did remind me of certain action-packed blockbuster movies I've seen, with certain scenes reminiscent of The War of the Worlds, I Am Legend, Alien ... The film rights have actually been sold to Ridley Scott so I can see this turning into a huge Hollywood success - it will certainly appeal to anyone who can't be bothered to read through a huge novel !
The only thing that left me slightly disappointed was the ending. I was expecting an explosive ending, following the twists and turns of the plot, knowing it could go either way and expecting either a definitive happy ending or a final catastrophic showdown. But it's just left open - you have to fill in the blanks for yourself and never know what actually happened at the end. I felt cheated - after putting in the effort of reading near-on 800 pages, I wanted it to go out with a bang, not a whimper ! I'm wondering if it has deliberately been left open to allow a sequel, but if so, the ending was too abrupt and clumsy.
The blurb on the back of the book calls The Passage "the publishing event of the year" and it is certainly one of the most exciting, unexpected and totally different novels that I've read for a while.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £18.99
Hardcover: 784 pages
Publisher: Orion (24 Jun 2010)