by Jim Crace
This novel is set in the Judean desert around 2000 years ago and tells the story of four travellers who embark on a spiritual journey in which they will spend forty days and forty nights - a quarantine- fasting and praying for their souls.
What these poor miscreants hadn't bargained for was the intervention of Musa, a tyrannical merchant, and his miserable pregnant wife Miri. Musa is a wife beater, a torturer of animals and a rapist, who, much to the relief of Miri, is dying. The two, Musa and Miri, have been left in the desert by the rest of their entourage because Musa in his dying state is a liability to the group. Miri has to perform her wifely duties and prepare her husband for his death. While she is out happily digging a grave for him she spots the quarantiners, three men and a woman, looking for a place amongst the rocks and caves to do their penance. During Miri's absence a fifth person has appeared on the scene and entered the tent that she and her husband share. This person is a young Galilean man called Jesus who, on seeing the dying Musa, tries to comfort him and on leaving the tent blesses the merchant. In his feverish, dreamlike state what Musa sees is a saintly vision……………
Musa miraculously recovers (much to the dismay of Miri) and the tale unfolds as the seven battle for survival in the relentless desert landscape.
Jim Crace describes the natural world with insight and imagination and reminds us constantly, and graphically, of the interdependence between nature and ourselves. He is also a teller of great tales. We are tantalised from the outset by the enigmatic Jesus character, willing him to perform the next 'miracle'.
Read our interview with Jim Crace.