The Passage by Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, New York, 2010
Borrowed from the library.
First off, with all the hype around The Passage I was hesitant, but the blog posts I read had me curious. Then there was the blurb by Stephen King which I found a bit off-putting. An epic fantasy? Come on.
I picked the book up from the library, brought it home and set it beside the books I was reading. I tried to ignore it, but it was like something alive, it was whispering at me. I picked it up, opened the cover and fell in.
This drove me crazy. The book is good but not that good. There are parts that move along nicely, and others that bog down. It’s kind of a rehash/mismash of The Stand, The Road, 28 Days Later and every vampire novel that’s been released in the last five years. I tried to pick up the other books I was reading but could not stay focused. I had to get back to The Passage.
The premise, a well-meaning scientist visits the jungle of Bolivia, searching for some virus, some medical miracle. Much to the scientist’s surprise the military has signed on, giving him plenty of financial backing. They move deeper into the jungle. People die. Time passes. Then you have FBI agents traveling to prisons recruiting death row inmates. Can you see what’s coming? Experiment gone bad, savage test subjects escape, thirsting for blood and destroying most of the population of North America. Small group of survivors struggle on. This goes on for a while. The book is 766 pages long.
The thing is, Cronin is a decent writer, and the characters he has created, both good and bad, are interesting and intriguing. I found myself wanting to know what happens to them. There are many and the story shifts between them all, giving the reader different perspectives. Sometimes I had to go back and revisit a scene, just to be sure I was following things correctly.
We are given glimpses of a character’s struggles through bits of journals presented at the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period. The conference takes place at the University of New South Wales in the year 1003 A.V. – After Virus. I found this bit quite fun, had an interesting time imagining this conference, it’s participants.
Some parts of The Passage work better than others but over a period of 4 days I found it hard to put this book down. By the end, a cliffhanger if there ever was one, I wanted to know what happens to everyone. I was distraught, upset. I didn’t know this chunkster is the first part of a trilogy!
Anyway, I liked The Passage even though a nasty, judgemental part of me said I shouldn’t. If you are drawn to apocalyptic dystopia fiction you might like it, too. Here are some samples of Cronin’s writing.
Carter lifts his free hand to the side of the glass and brushed the tips of his fingers against it. The glass was cool, and sweating with moisture; Carter drew his hand away and rubbed the beads of water between his thumb and fingers, slowly, his eyes focused on this gesture with complete attention. So intense was his concentration that Wolgast could feel the man’s whole mind opening up to it, taking it in. It was as if the sensation of cool water on his fingertips was the key to every mystery of his life. Pages 51-52.
They followed the river, into the afternoon. They were in the foothills now, leaving the plateau behind. The land began to rise and thicken with trees-naked, twiglike aspens and huge ancient pines, their trunks wide as houses, towering over their heads. Beneath their vast canopies, the gound was open and shaded, pillowed with needles. The air was cold with the dampness of the river. They moved, as always, without speaking, scanning the trees. All eyes.
There was no Placerville; it was easy to see what had occurred. The narrow valley, the river carving through it. In spring, when the snowpack melted, it would be a raging current. Like Moab, the town had washed away. Page 627
There really are some interesting similarities with The Stand, particularly the action that takes place in and around Las Vegas. Now I feel like I should read King’s novel again, just to compare. Here are some other reviews of The Passage: