The Passage – Justin Cronin

I have been trying to think of the last time I have seen so many posters of a book as I have for Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ on the underground in London. It almost feels like its every station plus every single book site it going crazy about it. It’s already being heralded as ‘the publishing event of the year’. When I received the proofs from the publisher (I got two, they were very keen I read it, and gave on to Novel Insights) I knew that this was going to be a huge book, not just in size, for 2010. There were four pages of quotes from Orion staff almost screaming how much they loved it, its film rights have been sold to Ridley Scott and the book arrived in November, a whole seven months before its release. Now that’s a lot of pressure for any book and a huge amount of hype so instantly my mind was made up ‘it won’t be worth it’ then  when someone mentioned the word ‘vampires’ I could feel my eyes visibly roll, shows how wrong you can be though doesn’t it?

There is something I want to say about ‘The Passage’, before I go any further, do not watch the promotional trailer. It gives something away about the book that you aren’t even sure about as you get to page 500. In fact I would be wary of reviews unless, like I am about to do, they say they aren’t going to give too much away. Erm, I am not going to give too much away!!

‘The Passage’ is a very hard book to encompass in a review purely from it’s size, plot, cast of characters, twists and turns and I do think some people might just blurt everything out from excitement and that could ruin the reading experience. I was most cross when someone let the word ‘vampire’ out the bag before I had even started, but that is a bit of a given with this book and without mentioning them you couldn’t explain how brilliant this book is, don’t let vampires put you off like they almost did me as you would be missing out on a trick.

The only way to categorise ‘The Passage’ is epic, not just in size but also in scope. You can’t label it a thriller, horror, science fiction, supernatural or literary fiction because actually it’s all of those and more. Cronin has a vision and imagination that has no bounds. ‘The Passage’ starts in modern times (I found out late on when a character looks back it actually starts in 2012) with three characters going about their lives. Anthony Carter is facing the death penalty for murder. Agent Brad Wolgast is on what he thinks is simply another assignment. Amy Harper Bellafonte has just been abandoned by her mother at the doorstep of a nunnery. Elsewhere in the world, Bolivia in fact, the army have found a horrifying virus but power hungry as we humans are someone decides to harness it as a weapon against terrorism creating a new species of ‘Subjects’ semi-human weapons (vampires, but not like we have seen vampires before) by infecting prisoners on death row. Only they now need a child to test it on. What’s more is humans haven’t bargained on these ‘Subjects’ thinking for themselves and the true nature of the virus.

“Subject Zero glowed. In the infrared, any heat source would do that. But the image of Subject Zero flared on the screen like a lit match, almost too bright to look at. Even his crap glowed. His hairless body, smooth and shiny as glass, looked coiled – that was the word Grey thought of, like the skin was stretched over lengths of coiled rope – and his eyes were the orange of highway cones. But the teeth were the worst. Every once in a while Grey would hear a little tinkling sound on the audio, and knew it was the sound of one more tooth dropped from Zero’s mouth to the cement. They rained down at a rate of half a dozen a day. These went in the incinerator, like everything else; it was one of Grey’s jobs to sweep them up, and it gave him the shivers to see them, long as the little swords you’d get in a fancy drink. Just the thing if, say, you wanted to unzip a rabbit and empty it out in two seconds flat.”

You might now be thinking it sounds like it gets magical. It doesn’t.  It’s just a new race of super killing predators have been created which changes the world forever. What happens after?  You would have to read it to find out as I really, really don’t want to give the slightest thing away for anyone. I think I can say that the book does very much feel like it has two parts as at one point Cronin suddenly  tips everything you have thought, assumed and been heading towards right on its head in front of your eyes. I gasped. Yes it’s a book with vampires in but its also a book about the nature of humanity too.

Unlike many books that get this sort of hype and have the mix of thriller, sci-fi etc not only does this have fantastically fast paced plot (page turning addiction) it has a marvellous set of fully living and breathing characters and is very well written. I don’t know if we have had literary vampire fiction before have we, ha? The plot and speech of the characters are designed to move the book forward quickly but never at the expense of the prose. And what a cast of characters, women will fall for Wolgast as he is brave and caring though never clichéd, you will feel sympathetic for Carter despite the fact he is on death row, Sister Lacey may be the best fictional nun ever, later on you will love Auntie and the strong willed Alicia. Every character has a back story you learn about, even those who are only featured for a page or two. Cronin also has the master stroke of giving us some of the viral ‘Subjects’ back stories and humanising them.

There was one down side for me, caused really by the addictive nature of the book, and that was the size and sheer weight of it. I initially thought it might need a good editor but that’s not the case, it needs to be the length it is and I never got bored or thought ‘hurry up already’. I just couldn’t cart it everywhere with me and I really, really wanted to. In fact at one point the book and I nearly fell out because it was making me want to read on and yet I couldn’t just sit and read it in one go. I had a rather large sulk, but I guess that’s a positive though really?

Do not let the media craze put you off ‘The Passage’ or indeed it’s size. It’s a fantastic read that will grip you, entertain you, horrify you all in one go. Did I mention how real it is? You can actually imagine it all happening which is really rather scary. The characters are marvellous – though never get too attached, they don’t always last out as long as you might hope (and sometimes you will be hoping with every fibre of your being). This is a book that’s actually worthy of all the fuss, don’t let the hype put you off as you’d be missing out on a treat. I would never have picked this book up had it not been sent my way but I am very glad I did. 10/10 (Yes, even with the small huff along the way.)

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

The Road – Cormac McCarthy (though much shorter than ‘The Passage’ this book is a tale of love and hope in an apocalyptic world and Cronin has moments of true human emotions, hope and beauty after the end of the world that this book does)
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell (I wouldn’t dare compare ‘The Passage’ and this classic as I would be berated to infinity. I can compare its sheer scope though and the fact a futuristic world is created to the tiniest levels of detail yet remains readable whilst page turning and combines science fiction with the literary)



Filed under Books of 2010, Justin Cronin, Orion Publishing, Review

55 responses to “The Passage – Justin Cronin

  1. Dot

    Brilliant review, I have been undecided up to now whether it was worthy of all the fuss or not but you have made my mind up, I shall definitely be getting a copy!

  2. The hype for this has been extraordinary, hasn’t it?! I am rather frustrated with myself for having had a copy so long and still not read it – oops :s I think I’ll make it my summer reading (I’m not going anywhere that involves only a 20kg suitcase so all is good on that front). I’ve actually been reading quite a bit of vampire fiction in last week so it will fit in well and probably blow them out of the water.

    • I just keep seeing Amy’s face wherever I go. I was actually a little annoyed I hadnt stringer arms as to be seen reading it in advance would have been nice hahaha from a purely materialistic way.

      It’s a great summer read means you will have to spend hours and hours in a park in the sunshine. Shame.

  3. I know you mention the hype, but I ain’t noticed it (yet)… there are no posters on the District Line anyway! 😉

    This sounds a bit Stephen King-ish, actually. I remember reading several of his door-stoppers in my late teens and absolutely loving them. I still think his “The Stand” is a masterpiece.

    • There are flipping loads on the northern line, I can tell you that much.

      Stephen King is a HUGE fan of this book and has been telling all in sundry that they should give it a whirl. You will have yours in a week or so, so you’ll be able to judge for yourself all in good time. I haven’t read much King am thinking that I should.

  4. Oooh, I can’t wait to read this. Once I’ve got through a bit more of my TBR pile, of course!

  5. I’m about half way through and, I have to admit, struggling. It is just so huge, and so far still seems to disconnected. I’m looking forward to the rest of it though!

    • I know what you meanabout the disconnection in the middle and I think Polly (at Novel Insights) remarks on this are spot on. You get back in the swing and then think how clever Cronin is for a) keeping you going and b) making it make sense. I lost the gist a little halfway, I think it was around the sulking mark, but am so glad I carried on.

  6. Deb

    I had no intentions of reading this book, but your review and an equally enthusiastic one in “Entertainment Weekly” magazine have changed my mind. Of course, since I have pledged not to buy books but only read from the TBR pile or from the library–and the library’s waiting list for this book is pages long, it may actually be 2012 before I get to it!

    • Hahahaha I have heard the waiting lists at libraries for this are phenomenal, will most people be able to read it in the three weeks your alloted?

      Starting it in 2012 might be quite apt, mind you you might be waiting to hear on the news of a mega virus the whole time.

  7. I’ve also seen it compared to Stephen King’s The Stand, which if that is true, then no worries for me. I have this loaded on my iPod, and when I finish “The Girl That Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” I shall be embarking on the journey!

    • I haven’t read The Stand so couldnt comment, I would find it hard to believe this book is like any other because of its scope. If Kings is as good/better than this I should get a wriggle on and read it.

      I wonder what The Passage will be like on audio? You will have to let us know.

  8. novelinsights

    Ooh great review. It’s a big book to sum up, and that can be quite difficult in just a few passages but you’ve done it really well. Fab book, so glad you gave me your spare 🙂

    I know what you mean about toting it about though!

    • I fell out with the book I won’t lie Polly, in fact you know I did as I had a little moan. The fact I carried on and loved it is testament to how good it is.

      Have seen you have popped your review up so shall be heading for a gander shortly.

  9. I’ve been awaiting eagerly your review of this and you’ve sold it to me. Won’t be rushing out for it though got to get through my TBR pile before I add a monster size book like this!

    • I think its a book people should just treat themselves to regardless really. I was expecting it to take weeks and weeks to read (and it took a couple as I had short reads in between)but if you sat down with just the book and cancelled the world out, which is what you will want to do, it could be done in a long weekend.

  10. Norman

    Mmmmm….great review Simon but I will give this one a miss. Seems like more of the same, inane post-apocalyptic content and style which has become the hsllmsrk of our new Dark Age. “But the image of Subject Zero flared on the screen like a lit match” – how did such junior school writing escape the editors?

    • Maybe that wasnt the best quote norman hahaha. The teeth thing really bothered me though. I tried to make the review avoid the book sounding the way people will think ‘inane’ ha. People are gonna think that whatever and each to their own I say.

  11. I’ve been saving this one to start tomorrow on my seven-hour train ride, and I cannot wait to read it. I haven’t read a bad review yet, although I have taken to skimming most of them as it seems difficult to review a book of that length without somewhat spoiling something.

    • This is the perfect book for such a long journey, I bet it whizzes by, plus will leave you a good half to read on the way back too hee hee.

      I tried my hardest not to reveal too much so hope havent given anything away.

  12. Ti

    I enjoyed this one as well and felt that its length was appropriate. Justin Cronin said in an interview with Book Page, that his goal was to write a book that would appeal to all different types of readers. I feel that he succeeded. It’s a thriller, a mystery, a love story and a bit of sci-fi all rolled into one.

    Lots are comparing it to The Stand, but I find them completely different. I am re-reading The Stand now though just to be sure.

    • He has definitely succeeded I think Ti. I have to say if the publisher hadnt sent me the book then I would probably have avoided it from the hype and word ‘vampire’ but what I treat I would have been missing!

      I think people love to have books to compare a book to. I even have a suggested prose partners but I am not saying they are the same, I am just saying if you like that you might like this.

  13. Bet

    I think I will most likely give this one a miss, Simon, but I do want to comment on the disappointment that is often felt upon reading an over-hyped book. In fact, I feel that we are primed for disappointment in such a case and for that reason I usually avoid books that are over-publicized or if I do decide to try them, I get them at the library so I won’t have thrown my money away. Some disappointingly over-hyped books that I have read are: The DaVinci Code (worst book I ever read!), The Thirteenth Tale, and The Help (very good, but didn’t live up to the hype), and The Shack.

    Recently, I read Cutting for Stone, which I believe you said was over-hyped on your side of the pond. This is one book that totally lived up to the astounding reviews. I could hardly put it down.

    • No worries Bet, I am under no illusion that everything I rave about people will rush out and read, though wouldnt that be lovely… mind you also very boring hahahaha.

      I couldnt compare this book to any of the ones you have mentioned that I agree got over hyped (havent read The Help yet) because its in a league of its own. I know what you mean about the hype though… what about the fifth, or was it the sixth, Harry Potter book. One of them was a dud they both escape me.

      Cutting For Stone got huge press here, I have my eyes on it just not quite yet.

  14. I am excited to read this one! It sounds fantastic! All the hype had me a bit unsure as to whether or not it would be a good read, but after your review and some others I’ve read, I am definitely going to be reading The Passage! Great post, Simon!

    • Thanks Nadia thats very kind of you. Hype does really put people off doesn’t it. But then how do publishers get people to read? Oh they have a trickly job they cant please us all.

  15. I had my doubts about this book at first, but after yours and a couple of other really good reviews, I’m tempted to throw in the towel and just buy the e-book already. Gah! Temptation.

    • As much as I hate e-readers, and its quite a strong reaction to them I have, its almost verging on rash ahahaha. I think this would make a great e-reader read. Though it wouldnt be heavy it might eat up some memeory haha.

      • That was sort of my thought. I can’t imagine carrying this one around in my bag from class to class all day. Noooo way. Not to mention while working out.

      • I was quite lucky… I got a canvas bag with the finished printed edition of this which was perfect for carrying it around it, shame it arrived recently and not when I was reading the proof of the book hahaha.

  16. Pingback: The Passage by Justin Cronin « Novel Insights

  17. Simon – I am very pleased to read your review because I sometimes want to read something long and engrossing but am so often disappointed. I think I’ll give this one a go, as judging from your review, its far from being “pulp fiction” despite the vampires!

    • You might just like my new post today Tom which may have some suggestions and you can throw some in on long books. This book is gonna get slated here there and everywhere as that is what people are paid to do. I freely admit I would have scorned it had I not read it. Does that make me fickle hahaha?

  18. Pingback: The Long & Short of It « Savidge Reads

  19. Great review, Simon. Without telling us anything that will spoit the book, you have actually told us rather a lot and it is making me want to read it!

    Big books scare me, not because of their size necessarily but because I have so many books I want to read that if I spend time on one large book I know that there are 3 smallers ones that I could have read in the same amount of time and that makes me panic about all my other undread books! Le sigh.

    I do want to pick this up though; based on the strength of yours and Polly’s reviews more than anything as hyped up books normally bring me out in a cold sweat!

    • Hoorah Boof my objective was successful then! I hate plot spoilers, even if theres warnings. I cant help but think ‘spoil sport’ and with a book this big you need surprises and thrills thrown at you that your not expecting.

      Big books scare me too… you might like my post today actually which this book inspired. I might have to give more a whirl.

      Hyped books have a similar effect on me and its sad because this book could become a victim of that very effect.

  20. This sounds really great, I HATE when trailers give away key bits of books/films! I’d really like to give this one a go now, even though I don’t have a very good track record with long books, I tend to buy them and then leave them sitting on my shelf forever as I keep picking shorter books to read over them.

    • Yeah I was quite narked with the trailer as I just wanted to see what they had come up with and how they were selling it and whoops there was a big part of the plot gone… grrr!

      I am trying very hard to gear myself towards the longer books for a bit, I just keep getting distracted with the ‘oh thats ones not too long, I’ll just read that first’ issue.

  21. So glad you enjoyed it too and weren’t totally put off by its gargantuan proportions! I think folk can sometimes be a bit too snobby about books like this which focus on brilliant storytelling whilst remaining very accessible reads. I’ve read some large books (e.g The Historian) which could have done with rigorous pruning but I agree with you that The Passage is just spot on although yes, it should perhaps come with some sort of transport caddy…

    • Yes I have noticed a few snobby comments here and there about book like this. I blame The Da Vinci Code which had lots of plot but lacked… well something. Thats all I will say on that (apart from the fact I read it enjoyed it but thought it was rubbishly written, great plot though and a proper escapist read) for now.

      I have had The Historian on my shelves for ages and ages and never quite wanted to read it. Its going on the ‘possibly for the charity shop pile’ as I think if I havent touched it for a few years then I am not going to. (Not the same if its one of many books by an author I love.)

  22. I love the sound of this book (I haven’t come across it anywhere else except for Novel Insights) and the size doesn’t put me off at all. But the edition out here in Canada is an ugly hardcover with a very boring cover image. I’m happy to wait till the paperback comes out. But I would never have thought of reading it, based on seeing it in the bookshops, if I hadn’t seen your post 🙂

    The basic plotline reminds me of Camp Concentration by Thomas M Disch – I haven’t read it yet but got it after reading a friend’s review. It’s about soldiers turned into super-humans, but the drug also greatly reduces their life expectancy. Do you know of it? I only heard of it last year but it’s from the 60s.

    • I haven’t seen the canadian cover I have seen the american one and I love it, I am not the biggest fan of the UK one though what you can’t see is that its got a very spooky shiny effect on it. I do like the american one better though.

      I havent heard of Camp Concentration no, it sounds sort of like this but not at all if you know what I mean haha.

  23. Oh, yeah, the American and the Canadian covers are the same. You prefer it? I love the UK cover!

    Without having read The Passage, yeah they sound quite different! Similar theme though… I admit I’m a sucker for stories about meddling/experimenting with human DNA etc. – it’s the X-Men fan in me 😉 There’s zero room on my shelves for another fat hardcover though (it doesn’t look that long a book to me, when I saw it in Chapters. What’s the page count?)

    • Well interestingly the hardback I have since been set is about 70 pages shorter! They have changed the font and lessened the chapter breaks but it’s a lovely thing! I do love your cover more! I would say let swap but the postage on a book like this would bankrupt us both hahahahhahahaha!

      • Ha ha yes it would – but y’know I ordered the UK paperback from The Book Depository on the weekend – free shipping! I had the choice of the UK or US editions, which is great. Let them pay to ship the brick!!

  24. Pingback: Do You Book Juggle? « Savidge Reads

  25. Liam McDonagh

    Hmm… I escaped the hype but still read it…its about three hundred pages too long and there’s a point where you just hope the ‘smokes’ just kill all the humans really. Its really drawn out and now I understand its just the first part of a trilogy… save your money and your time and find a better book to read

  26. Christine C

    Oh my word! Brilliant review, if I wasn’t already 494 pages into this book already I would have dashed out to my local 24 hour supermarket to buy it. As I say I haven’t finished this book yet but I’m just so damn excited about it, I can’t wait to finish it I know it’s not going to let me down in any way.

    Your review tells the best things about the book without any spoilers and this I love about book reviews so thank you for that 🙂

    You made me laugh at your “falling out with the book” and your “rather large sulk” at not being able to get through it as quickly as you would have liked. I too am feeling the same, I have three children under 8 and my reading time is when they are asleep, where I disappear for hours into this book, my husband believes I need help 😉

    I love the way this book reminds me of a particular Stephen King novel, and am not at all surprised that film rites have already been given.

    I would never give up my actual books but this one would be handy on an ereader 😉 something about the shear size of it just makes it impressive from the start and I can’t wait to get to the end, it just dares to be read.

    I will be back to read future reviews as you really know how to review a good book 😉

  27. FiFi M

    Oh Wow,

    I LOVED this book – Finished Sunday 4th June – I was sooo hyped up about this book (and it sure did not let me down) that i bought it in Hard Back AND on my Kindle!!! Lot easier reading on the K BTW…

    It is just me, probably, but I had no troubles with this book whatsoever, just could not put it down, may just have to go back and re-read it..

    Anyone have any news on when the next one is out!! I am gagging to find out what happens next!!!

  28. Pingback: “Please let those be books, please let thos be books…” « The Book Whisperer

  29. Hi there — I just linked your review to my blog as I am anticipating reading this when I return from vacation! Many thanks to your insight!

  30. Pingback: The Passage by Justin Cronin | Coffee Stained Pages

  31. Pingback: Something Is Almost Yours… A Giveaway! « Savidge Reads

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