Friday Favourites: “Quarantine” by Jim Crace


Two thousand years ago four travellers enter the Judean desert to fast and pray. Marta wants a child; her husband accuses her of being barren and if she doesn’t conceive when she returns he will divorce her. Aphas is dying of cancer and hopes to be healed. Shim is in search of enlightenment and no one really knows why the wily Babu is there.

Miri, on the other hand, is stranded in the wilderness because it looks as if her husband the Musa is about to die. Heavily pregnant she hopes that death will come quickly to him for it is her escape from the brutality of her marriage, for the merchant Musa is a rapist, madman and sadist­­ – the embodiment of evil.

On the fringes of this group is the Galilean. Jesus is a troubled soul, a young man who is convinced that God will look after him in the desert. Does he have special powers? Is he the healer the others take him to be?

Although my “Friday Favourites” feature books I like and can whole heartedly recommend, “Quarantine” is a book I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand the depiction of the desert, the detailed descriptions of the landscape and survival is such a barren place are vivid; the language poetic and the premise gripping, ultimately the story lost its force for me.

It was a book I was going to discard; take to the charity shop along with so many others that haven’t earned their places on my shelves, but ultimately it has proved impossible to let go. In spite of my reservations, or maybe because of them, I keep thinking about what the writer has done, whether I agree with his version of the story in the New Testament and I rather suspect it will have to be read again.

Unlike many of the other books I have read over the past few months, “Quarantine” has entered my imaginative bloodstream, as indeed the best of literature always does.

What I would love to know is if any of you have read it and what you thought about it.



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