Sunday, 12 June 2011

Book #45 The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage

The Passage, is really very much a game of two halves. It attracted me as a book in Waterstones due to the blurb on the back of it, which reads thus:

Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she's the most important person in the whole world. She is.

Anthony Carter doesn't think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He's wrong.

FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

Intriguing no?

Set in the not-too-distant future, (Jenna Bush is namechecked as Governor of Texas) the US Government organises a biological experiment to create "super-soldiers" and inadvertently cause an Apocalypse, in which Zombie/Vampire hybrid types take over converting humans into one of their own - once the bite has taken hold. Though technically they are Vampires, the human conversion via virus scenario is typical of Zombie stories.

What is slightly odd about this book is that we get a pre-Apocalypse storyline involving Carter, Wolgast and Bellafonte, and then an 80 year time-lapse after which we begin a post-Apocalypse new storyline with some of the last human survivors, with very little in between and a sudden loss of the story of the characters for whom we bought the book because we were intrigued by them.

This, should, technically spoil the book somewhat, and make its next two-thirds a bit annoying, but somehow the new storyline flows on, and you don't mind so much, the loose ends tidying themselves up as you go. It is a shame that there isn't much detail about the actual event in between these two stories though, although perhaps the writer felt that this sort of writing has been overdone.

I found it rather reminiscent of the recent AMC series 'The Walking Dead', the Woody Harrelson/Jesse Eisenberg vehicle 'Zombieland', and the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost vehicle 'Shaun Of the Dead',  zombie apocalypse stories apparently becoming the theme du jour. I was also reminded of the BBC series 'Survivors' which was first shown in the late Seventies and then revamped in 2009/2010 which featured a deadly virus wiping out the human population. There is something extremely ominous about this sort of story, as it encourages you to reflect on the possibility that in the case of such an event, you could become the only person you know left alive. What would you do? This is scary. One of my best friends and I have discussed more than once, what we would do in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse. (Yes, we're weird.)  Basically, you need guns, a car, petrol and access to a supermarket, although these are non-renewable resources which will eventually bottom out. Anyway, where was I?

Even though both Zombie and Vampire stories are overly present lately, this book, although at times  derivative of other media has a quality that means it remains somehow engaging. 
The Passage in terms of the tone of its prose has a clearly Americanised feel, I often find it odd that you can tell an American book by the prose, there's something in the style. It reads similarly to a American crime novel or a thriller and I often find that "tone" a bit of a turn off. Where 'The Passage' as a story, rises above its writing is in the fact that it is seriously creepy, tense and compelling. I kept "finishing for the night" and then going back "for another twenty pages", even though this is not the sort of thing I usually read.

Where the book lets itself down a little is when our survivors come into contact with other survivors and somehow I have found this to be a recurrent flaw of this type of story be it presented as book, film or TV show form. The Passage itself is an interesting title able to mean multiple things, the passage as a journey, the passage of time, and the passage from humanity to otherness.

Although I didn't "get" the decisions behind some of the plot choices near the end of the book, and felt that Cronin lacked the bravery to kill off big characters, I hear this book is a first-parter in a trilogy, in fact, the ending makes a sequel a given, and I will definitely read the follow up.

An unnerving novel. 8/10


  1. I have had the book a while now, and I did start it once, but it was not grabbing me so I put it down to go back to at a later date. I will give it another go now!

  2. Yay, I love getting comments. Yeah I struggled to get into to begin with, ultimately I liked it, but I get the feeling it might be a bit of a Marmite book.