In the most direct of ways, Jim Crace’s last four books have taken on, in order, God (Quarantine, 1997), death ( Being Dead, 1999), food ( The Devil’s Larder, 2001), and sex ( Genesis, forthcoming in 2003). Of course Quarantine, which is about Christ’s forty days in the wilderness (and which won him a Whitbread prize and made the shortlist for the Booker), is also about food and sex, or hunger and desire anyway, and Being Dead, which tracks in excruciatingly patient detail the decomposition of a murdered couple, is too—though the grub is the sort that worms prefer. The Devil’s Larder, a collection of sixty-four very short stories about eating, returns that act to its sensuous, life-giving and death-dealing roots, and Genesis, a novel about a man who impregnates every woman with whom he sleeps, unfashionably reunites sex with its fusty old pal procreation.
Crace does not shy away from the Big subjects. Without any ironic cover to hide behind, he stakes his ground around them and fills the enclosed territory with the most impossibly and perfectly detailed worldscousins if not siblings of the fully imagined universe he laid out in his first novel, Continent, another Whitbread winner set on a familiar but distinct “seventh and shabby continent” of Crace’s own devising.
On the phone at least, Jim Crace has none of the sober and high-minded laconism you might expect from reading his prose. He’s a gloriously easy interview—it doesn’t take much prodding to get him going, and the words just topple on out in a loose North London accent. Crace is casually and joyously garrulous, self-mocking, almost boyishly ebullient. He spoke to me from his home in Birmingham, where he claims to lead “the most uninteresting biographical life of any writer.”
THE BELIEVER: Do you not think of [your first novel] Continent as a political novel?
JIM CRACE: They’re all political, my novels, but they’re not street political. They’re not leaflets, not placards. They’re bourgeois fiction. They’re rhythmically written. They’re full of metaphor. The working-class blokes from North London like me once admired novels that were clarion calls in the way that The Grapes of Wrath was. It had a subject matter: identifiable poor people. It had an agenda, which was how these problems could be met. It had villains, the capitalists and the landowners. It was directly applicable to the state of America at the time, whereas my books were much more dislocated than that. My seventeen-year-old self, if he were to walk into my converted garage, which is what I’m sitting in at the moment, and look at my books, would sneer at the books I write now. Part of my seventeen-year-old self is still kind of perched on my left shoulder, sneering at what I do.
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