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)