Sunday, 20 March 2011

Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

I've just finished Justin Cronin's The Passage - thank the Lord.  You know when you've been reading a book for too long and you just want to move onto another story?  Well it was getting to that stage.  I'm normally a quick reader but this behemoth had me going for about 3 weeks.

You've probably heard of Cronin's epic vampire pop culture meets literary novel which prompted a bidding war before it was even finished and will be given cinematic treatments in the near future.  But is it any good?


I've gotta be honest, this is not an easy read.  In the literal sense.  It's just so bloody big.  Now I've tackled big books before - your James Joyces and Tolkeins and Kings, but this was just plain painful.  My hands are still aching even now.  The strange thing is my copy is around 760 pages long - that's shorter than Stephen King's The Stand (at least I think so - the pages are larger) but the actual book is so big it's awkward and resulted in a bruised nose when I fell asleep reading it in bed. You certainly can't put it in your handbag.  I feel that Cronin may be personally responsible for boosting Kindle sales.  But of course, that doesn't really matter, it's what's inside that counts as my teachers always told me, which leads me onto...


I have to agree with the many reviews I've seen which say the first 250 odd pages are gripping.  We meet an interesting cast of characters - Amy, Wolgast, Carter - and Cronin gives us decent character development.  This is the part of the novel which covers the outbreak of the virus and how a kind of Apocalypse came to pass - maybe just in America, but who knows?  The relationship between Amy and Wolgast is developed and works well to hold it together.  Sister Lacey too.


Which brings me onto the next section - 100 years later.  Now quite a few reviewers on Amazon say they don't like this bit as suddenly finding all those characters you've been spending time with for the past 250 pages are dead(ish).  I don't actually have a problem with that.  If the book's going for an epic, sweeping history, dislocating feel, then it works.  However Cronin introduces too many new characters in too short a space of time.  I'm still not sure who some of them are, and I wasn't sure who I was supposed to side with.  It was only about 70 pages before the end that I realised who the "hero" was.  Not that a book can't have lots of heroes, but this one is evidently more important and I'm not really sure why.  Other characters die and I don't really care.  Who are you again?


So there are some plot holes and confusion.  But to be fair, it was only when I read the end and thought "Hmmm, that doesn't really seem like a proper ending," and investigated further that I discovered it's the first in a trilogy (note to self - must buy Kindle).  So some bits left hanging may be resolved later

But there are some stylistic aspects I find a bit UGLY.  For example, Cronin likes to trick the reader.  Oh no! S/he's dead!! How sad.  Cut to different scene.  Cut back.  Oh it's okay, s/he's not, and here's why.  Also as I ploughed through, my poor aching hands forced into vampire-like claws, I noticed a few bits of flamboyant vocabulary peeping through.  Vampires "ascend" and "descend", people "arise" from sleep and so forth.  And I'm still not really 100% sure why (MINOR PLOT SPOILER AHEAD) when the Colony party wake up that party of vamps in the library they don't just run out into the sunshine of the Californian desert.  Instead they go and hide in a shopping mall, with shade and those kind of dark spaces that vamps love.  But then the vamps seem to be able to move around in day a lot, just by keeping in the shade of trees - when it suits Cronin.  But I guess Spike and Angel did the same...maybe I'm just thinking a bit too much about this.

If I was going to grade it I'd give it a "C".  I'm hooked enough to want to read the rest when they come out (but on a Kindle) but I'm not under any illusions that this was the Holy Grail of a popular-literary mash up.  Now I'm going to go and massage my aching knuckles some more.


  1. Nice review. I'm editing my own book, so it's useful to see how you critique, etc. P.S. Hope the bruised nose gets better.

  2. Thanks! And the nose is much better too. What's your book about?

  3. Thanks for asking. It's a work of faction about a guy growing up in small town America during the early 1940s. Pretty much an outsider, he aspires for bigger things in his life. When WWII breaks out, the war seems the arena in which he could 'become someone'. However, once committed, it becomes obvious the whole experience is going to be very different that he initially imagined. It's basically a book about self discovery and how ironic life can sometimes be. Although set in wartime, it’s not a gung-ho type story; the exact opposite in fact. So far it’s taken me nine years and been an adventure in itself.

  4. Wow - nine years, that's immense. Is it nearly finished? Do you have an agent? I see from your blogs that it's an area you're really interested in. Must be good to use all that knowledge in another creative way other than art.

  5. It’s finished but I’m carrying out a final edit, which is more or less ending up as a total rewrite. Nope, haven’t got an agent. I just want to get it finished first………I don’t want to be discouraged from completing it. I realise it will more than likely be self-published, but that's okay :)


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