Being Dead

Being Dead

by Jim Crace

Paperback(First Edition)

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Lying in the sand dunes of Baritone Bay are the bodies of a middle-aged couple. Celice and Joseph, in their mid-50s and married for more than 30 years, are returning to the seacoast where they met as students. Instead, they are battered to death by a thief with a chunk of granite. Their corpses lie undiscovered and rotting for a week, prey to sand crabs, flies, and gulls. Yet there remains something touching about the scene, with Joseph's hand curving lightly around his wife's leg, "quietly resting; flesh on flesh; dead, but not departed yet."

"Their bodies had expired, but anyone could tell—just look at them—that Joseph and Celice were still devoted. For while his hand was touching her, curved round her shin, the couple seemed to have achieved that peace the world denies, a period of grace, defying even murder. Anyone who found them there, so wickedly disfigured, would nevertheless be bound to see that something of their love had survived the death of cells. The corpses were surrendered to the weather and the earth, but they were still a man and wife, quietly resting; flesh on flesh; dead, but not departed yet."

From that moment forward, Being Dead becomes less about murder and more about death. Alternating chapters move back in time from the murder in hourly and two-hourly increments. As the narrative moves backward, we see Celice and Joseph make the small decisions about their day that will lead them inexorably towards their own deaths. In other chapters the narrative moves forward. Celice and Joseph are on vacation and nobody misses them until they do not return. Thus, it is six days before their bodies are found. Crace describes in minute detail their gradual return to the land with the help of crabs, birds, and the numerous insects that attack the body and gently and not so gently prepare it for the dust-to-dust phase of death.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312275426
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 03/21/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 548,375
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.47(d)

About the Author

Jim Crace is the author of seven novels, including Quarantine, which won the 1997 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction. His novels have been translated into eighteen languages. He lives with his wife and children in Birmingham, England.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

For old times' sake, the doctors of zoology had driven out of town that Tuesday afternoon to make a final visit to the singing salt dunes at Baritone Bay. And to lay a ghost. They never made it back alive. They almost never made it back at all.

    They'd only meant to take a short nostalgic walk along the coast where they had met as students almost thirty years before. They had made love for the first time in these same dunes. And they might have made love there again if, as the newspapers were to say, 'Death, armed with a piece of granite, had not stumbled on their kisses.'

    They were the oddest pair, these dead, spreadeagled lovers on the coast: Joseph and Celice. Both had been teachers. He was director at the Tidal Institute, where he was noted for his coldness as much as for his brains. She was a part-time tutor at the university. Hardly any of their colleagues had ever seen them together, or visited them at home, let alone witnessed them touch. How unexpected, then, that these two, of all couples, should be found like this, without their underclothes, their heads caved in, unlikely victims of unlikely passions. Who would have thought that unattractive people of that age and learning would encounter sex and murder in the open air?

    They paid a heavy price for their nostalgia.

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Being Dead 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
SpyderWryter More than 1 year ago
Being Dead is a beautifully written novel. Crace constructs sentences with such vivid imagery that there is a simple pleasure in reading his words slowly and letting the picture he paints come alive in your mind. If I may provide a quick example: "The house itself is stretching, creaky in the rousing wash of dawn's first grey. The sun's forehead is peeking at the day, its face still indigo from sleep, its cloud head uncombed and tumbling its vapour curls on to the skyline of the sea." If that doesn't do anything for you, doesn't create an image in your head, then this book may not be for you.

This is a slow (but not difficult) and pleasurable read. The characters are credible, and Crace evokes your empathy for them. The narrator telling this story has a captivating voice capable of compassion, humor, knowledge and brutal honesty. He very well becomes a character in the story.

I have nothing but good things to say about this novel. If you enjoy the craft of a book, if you enjoy complex and realized characters, if you're interested in the fragility of mortality and just how to recapture the glory of a life passed away, if you want to see beauty where you think it couldn't possibly exist, then this book is for you. I never though I'd be saying the words "Being Dead is great," but there you have it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jim Crace is the Flaubert of our time. That may seem a rather heady exaggeration, but I have yet to read a living writer who is a better craftsman of that most fundamental unit of style, the sentence. Crace's are elegant, slightly unusual, a touch poetic, but never heavy handed or overdone. I'm always amazed at the way his powers never waver, not once--the stylistic consistency of his works, maintaining that perfection of style on every page, in every sentence, from start to finish, is great proof of a true literary genius. I can't recommend his work enough.
dreamreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this work because I'd recently enjoyed Mary Roach's collection of essays in "Stiff" and am of roughly the same age as poor Celice and Joseph who lie murdered and decaying in the sand dunes as this book opens. We Americans hide and disguise so much about death, cloaking our language in euphemisms or having words fail us altogether as we comfort loved ones "in this difficult time." My recent reading of fiction has veered either toward the slightly macabre and melancholy, or to English writers, so I was drawn with morbid fascination to Jim Crace's "Being Dead". Crace shifts perspective from the moments just after the couple's murder - to the receding hours just before, the advancing hours and days just after, and thirty years prior when they first met. What is lovely at the core of this "quivering" for rotting corpses is the elliptical way their lives together begin and end. We often read to know we're not alone, so it's especially comforting to read Crace's summary of the fragility and preciousness of life - "There is no remedy for death - or birth - except to hug the spaces in between. Live loud. Live wide. Live tall."
Foxen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A haunting little novel about a murdered couple. It explores the circuitous causes and meanings of their deaths, meandering through the past that brought them to that place at that time, while also following their decomposition before the bodies are found, and their daughter's search for them when they don't show up at work. It really tries to convey the banality of death, the commonplace and biological, to cut past the sentimental and romanticized ways in which we avoid really thinking about it, and yet show that it has meaning through its reality. It's a good novel, though admittedly morbid. I personally did not find it as heavy as some other reviewers have, perhaps because I'd already read Stiff by Mary Roach, and was somewhat desensitized to the idea of dead bodies. I also know that some people found the characters kind of stiff and unappealing, but I didn't find them particularly objectionable. Overall, a good read.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a manner zigzagging back and forth in time, the author traces the death of two zoology professors whose remains lie on the sands of Baritone Bay. The foreground is the nature of the land, raw and barren but soon to be developed. The background is the story of the married couple whose original meeting we see portrayed in this book. We learn why the couple returned to the place of their original meeting, the sad aspects of their turbulent relationship with their only daughter, and the reason for their ultimate demise. The author¿s way with words makes this book a delight to read. Its unorthodox timeline keeps the reader alert as the story progresses. The total package examines death from its natural base and adds the angle of human misfortune. The story is quite enchanting despite its macabre subject..
tloeffler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting, although bizarre, story about, well, being dead. The book begins with two bodies lying on the beach, and what is happening to those bodies as they deteriorate. The story then moves back to the day the two met, and intersperses stories from then forward with stories from the bodies backward. It's very odd, and actually very effective. I felt, though, as if I didn't learn enough about the couple to make me care very much. Well-written, just left me feeling unsatisfied.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While I can easily see the skill, research and art that went into this book, and even understand why it won awards, because of its subject - violent death presented in a very impersonal way - I found it a rather depressing read. The vivid descriptions of bodily decomposition and putrefaction, presented as they were in a most scientific manner, were concurrently morbidly fascinating and simply off-putting. The thread of absolute atheism that runs throughout the narrative was also disturbing - thought-provoking, but still disturbing, even if the reader has wrestled with his own problems of faith. Crace is quite definite in this matter, noting that "This was not death as it was advertised: a fine translation to a better place; a journey through the calm of afterlife into the realms of instinct and desire. The persons had not gone elsewhere,, to blink and wake ... They were, instead, as insensible as stones ..."The murdered couple's daughter, Syl, embodies this atheism even further when she sits outside a church and listens to a congregation singing hymns, but finds no comfort - "Her father's songs, for all their mawkish sentiment, were far more powerful. Love songs transcend, transport, because there's such a thing as love. But hymns and prayers have feeble tunes because there are no gods."There is more depressing stuff as the emotionless narrator goes on to describe how the crabs, insects, gulls and rodents "went to work" browsing the human remains. The murderer himself is never identified or described; he is simply a means to an end, an instrument who causes this very final and very 'natural' state of "being dead."The redeeming parts of the story come in the quirky love story that is Joseph and Celice, both zoologists, but nearly complete opposites in their outside interests and personalities. After thirty years together, they bicker and argue and make each other angry - "Yet there still was love, the placid love that only time can cultivate, a love preserved by habit and by memory."Yes this is a very skilfully written story, but it leaves me cold. So maybe Mr. Crace did what he intended to do. Death is very final, but it's also an integral part of life. We begin to die from the moment we are conceived. I get it. But do I really want to have my face - my mind - rubbed in it? Nope.
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No, this not another zombie novel. Not even close. Actually, a better title might be ¿Scientists in Love¿, although that fails to capture the dark, haunting tone, that shadows these pages.Joseph and Celice, are middle-aged zoologists. In the opening chapter, they are found murdered in a remote area of the dunes. As their bodies begin to decompose, the narrative takes us on a serpentine journey through this couple¿s lives and we witness their chance meeting in college, a long, sometimes bumpy thirty-year marriage, the usual joys and pitfalls, a restless, unhappy daughter and then finally their last fateful day.There is some gruesome detail to this story but it¿s described in a simple scientific manner. It is also filled with some lovely prose:¿Yet there was still love, the placid love that only time can cultivate, a love preserved by habit and memory. Their tree had little rising sap, perhaps, but it was held firm by deep and ancient roots.¿Highly recommended!
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Many thanks to Madeline and Donna for recommending this book. And, a big thanks for Brenzi (Bonnie) for sending an autographed copy to me as a gift!I tremendously enjoyed this book, though, it does seem incongruently odd to say that I liked a book about "being dead".The writing is magical, lyrical, complex and compelling. Two Middle aged Zoologists, Joseph and Celice have long struggled with a marriage that simply doesn't mesh. Successful in their field, yet by societal standands, they have failed in many areas, including raising a daughter who is self sufficicent and other directed.It an attempt to find one last chance at romance, Joseph invites Celice to return to the area on Baritone Bay where they first met as post graduate students and had sexual encounters in the sand.Tragically, their nostalgic journey nets their senseless killing and they are robbed and beaten to death in the deserted dunes.While Craces' descriptions of the decay of their bodies is not an easy read, the reader is hooked by his intelligent philosophical rendering of life and the natural process we will all endure when we die.This is seem less writing that is not romantic or over embellished with sorrow. And, while it seems clinical, there is enough character development that holds the reader riveted to the story, deeply understanding the fact that on a bring, sunny day, life can suddenly end.Juxtapositioning chapters between the bodies on the beach and details regarding the lives of Cecile and Joseph lends to sadness, but also detachment. Truly, the characters are not like able. From the beginning chapters, the reader does not like self obsessed, pragmatic Cecile. Joseph seems flat and unappealing. Still, in no way does Crace intimate that their senseless, untimely death was justified.Highly Recommended!
sarah-e on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The blend of science and story is what lingers with me after finishing this book. The story itself isn't warm enough - I didn't identify with the characters or particularly like them - and doesn't really leave the reader with good feelings. It wouldn't say it left me with feelings for characters or plot lines at all. The science is better, and if I was compelled to turn a page it was for description of how the natural world around the bodies reacted. Something felt missing, or cold, and I think that was reliance on the scientific aspects of the story. I enjoyed it. I wouldn't recommend it or read it again because too much of it was icky, but I did enjoy it.
TTAISI-Editor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hard to believe a book that includes so much detail about death, dying, and decomposition could be so good, but it is!
RoseCityReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being Dead is a well-written, at times even engrossing, novel, but is essentially bleak. Author Jim Crace provides a literary "quivering" for Joseph and Celise, the murdered protagonists, going back in stages to fill in details of both their last day and their 30 year marraige. The problem for me is that the author's "secular" view of life and death is depressing. Maybe some find the idea that we live, we die, and that is all there is to it, comforting. I find it grim. Add to my fundamental disagreement in outlook the fact that neither Joseph nor Celise was very happy with their marraige, their daughter, or life in general, and the whole thing is a real downer.
Zmrzlina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this very much. The title struck me as so odd...being dead. Being is conscious existence and dead is conscious of nothing, or so I always thought. In this book being dead seems almost more animated than being alive. The book is described on the cover as unsentimental, which is mostly true and I think that is one reason why I like it so much. I will for sure read more from this author.
ShelfMonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What is death? It is a question that haunts every human, as natural to our being as breathing. Many, many thousands of books have been written on the subject, most aimed at determining an afterlife of some sort, or a purpose behind it all. However, author Jim Crace is not content to mirror such themes, whether they are phantasmagorical (Richard Matheson's WHAT DREAMS MAY COME), or contemplative (M. Scott Peck's IN HEAVEN AS ON EARTH). Crace wants to understand what death is, what it means, and what is lost and gained in the process.Crace achieves a remarkable mediation on the subject in BEING DEAD, a novel that is unnerving in its originality and tenderness. He centres on Joseph and Celice, an elderly married couple, brutally murdered on a quiet beach. Crace takes several offbeat tacts in portraying what these deaths mean, both biologically and emotionally.First, the bodies themselves. Crace goes into determinedly graphic detail in his characterization of decomposition. As the bodies slowly deteriorate, the small world that surrounds them begins to interact, to reclaim the material for nature. For most of us, the thought of what happens to our bodies physically after death is a repulsive one. Yet Crace never offends, and never becomes exploitative. The lyricism and sense of melancholy Crace brings to the biological breakdown of a body are truly haunting.Interwoven with biology is nostalgia, as Crace charts the map of Joseph and Celice's relationship. From the first awkward rush of passion, to the resignation that an elderly couple may face every day, Crace allows the reader a glimpse into their minds, a reminder that every person is unique, and what we see is only superficial. Joseph's small frame and majestic singing voice only hint at his unhappiness with his life's outcome; physical opposite Celice's apparent quiet love of her husband masks her increasing frustration with the lack of passion in her life. These small glimpses into the makeup of their lives are an abrupt change from the description of their deaths, but the contrast serves to heighten the senselessness of death, and the steadfast mysteries that life and death both contain. How can we ever believe we can comprehend death, when we cannot even begin to understand the true nature and purpose of one solitary individual?Thirdly, Crace follows their daughter, a sullen young woman who has never gotten along with either of her parents. As she reluctantly searches for her missing mother and father, we view the way our lives continue after death, in the thoughts and memories of those we knew, and in the biological framework of our progeny. While the daughter would never admit it, she is equal parts mother and father, displaying both the good and bad traits of her parents. In Joseph and Celice's death, she finds a measure of comfort and renewal, ultimately of purpose.I do not mean for this to sound like a spiritual odyssey. As in his previous novel QUARANTINE (a realist version of Christ's forty days in the desert), Crace is not ready to resort to comforting platitudes on what comes next. Death is death, and what is beyond remains, and should remain, a mystery. Death is both intensely personal, and a universal experience shared by all. By providing the reader no easy answers, by never revealing the answer to the question, Crace provides an altogether mesmerizing and satisfying experience.
NativeRoses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A virtuoso fusion of high-concept fabulism and psychological realism which takes a pitilessly minute observation, as through a microscope, of the processes of organic decay in the lifeless bodies of a middle-aged married couploe, nad makes something unexpectedly romantic.
mattviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have never read anything like Being Dead: haunting, grotesque, sadly beautiful and unforgettable. The novel is not a murder mystery as it attempts to disguise many readers. It is rather an inventive, daring poetic meditation of a middle-aged couple's re-discovery of love. Nostalgia had ineluctably brought them back to Baritone Bay where they had first plunged into intimacy some thirty years ago. But Joseph and Celice had paid too heavy a price for their nostalgia: their lives.The beginning is the end in Being Dead. The couple, hand in hand, and whose nakedness had subjected them to indignity, terminated their lives in each other's flesh in a manner marked by a placid love that only time can cultivate. The narration, like the love of Joseph and Celice, is utterly unsentimental and business-like, something that is preserved by habit and memory, not necessarily with flaming passion. The dreamy writing accentuates the serene mood of the novel while it de-emphasizes the dramatic deaths and the reckless physical aftermath. The tranquility of the crime scene, the intrepidness with which the lissom grass perked back up after removal of the corpses, the gradual disappearance of rectangle of time-paled grass, the absorption of blood into the soil and the equanimity of their daughter Syl downplay the horrible death but at the same time usurp the promptings of readers' hearts. Being Dead transcends other contemporary works on the subject of death with its meditative, poetic monologue that dwells on life, love, and death. It is a literary treatise on an event, and the event is the death of a renowned zoologist and his wife in the midst of sand dunes at a remote beach. Being Dead is a literary event made possible by the author's naked daring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
roycharlesPA More than 1 year ago
One of the more imaginative books I have read. This will become a part of my permanent library. I discovered Jim Crace through a review of Being Dead in The Financial Times. I recommend this book to thoughtful readers.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Jim Crace's book, on the surface, is depressing. It is about death, and takes a brutal atheistic perspective. However, it is also about love, and romance, in situations where they should not flourish. The book examines two distinctly unromantic and unattractive people who meet in an unromantic situation, who are incompatible and somewhat unpleasant besides, and stay together into the unromantic period of middle age. They obviously love each other anyway. The couple is killed, and in disgusting detail are described as they rot and are consumed, but maintain a pose of tenderness and love. The world of this book is cynical and pessimistic but the beautiful, hopeful conclusion is this: love is not part of a situation, it transcends situation - love needs nothing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel failed to engage me on every level. It was written with a dryness that was supposed to suggest a deeper meaning, but it never conveyed anything extraordinary. The characters were flat and their relationships over-simplified. The plot, unique in its conception, was clumsily advanced. The novel manages to be boring without rewarding the reader for the effort. It lacked insight and emotional truth, though it pretended to reveal both. The last two words 'Being Dead' are 'being dead.' When I finished reading, I had to groan in disgust. At least it was cheap and short.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read it .... but it was neither entertaining nor uplifting. There is a gloominess that I just couldn't may be fine literature but I can't appreciate it. When there is a violent murder, i want some justice... not ambivelance and decomposition narrative.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being Dead is a love poem without the poetry as it might appear in Scientific American. The detailed description of the decomposition of two bodies was skillfully done, but beyond that success, there is little to be gained from this blessedly short novel. Joseph and Celice are drab, dispassionate people who, if they are, in fact, in love, show scant proof of it in the book. Maybe they were in Crace's imagination, but he failed to transfer that emotion into his characters. Indeed, Celice seems to flat out dislike her husband; it is hard to believe they were married for thirty years, much less subsequently destined to 'enjoy a loving and unconscious end' eternally thereafter. If you don't believe me, ask their daughter, Syl. She was unabashedly happy to see them go and didn't for a minute think of them as two people in love. Joseph and Celice lived and died and decomposed and that is what this book is about and there is nothing more to be harvested from Crace's prose other than his good intentions. Being Dead might have been an eloquent love dirge with another writer's execution. Return to James Joyce's 'The Dead' for an idea of what it's supposed to feel like.