Posted by: Matt | May 25, 2007

Review of Being Dead

Being DeadThis is a story about being dead. A man and wife return to the beach where there love was born only to have their lives end. They are murdered for their belongings. Left to lie in the sand until their daughter realizes they are missing. This is not a pleasant story, a story about murder usually isn’t.

This story is made particularly unpleasant by the description of decaying bodies and the absence of a truly likable character. The man and his wife could not be any more different. He is satisfied with their marriage, she is unhappy and irritated by his touch, his every show of affection. Their daughter is worse, she is seemingly void of love for her parents or for anyone else. In a constant state of rebellion, which is only increased with the realization that her parents are dead.

This is also a story about sex. Sex is the beginning and the end. It is the reason they come together and the reason they die. It is also a focus of the daughters rebelliousness. If I haven’t already, I am now entering the realm of pure subjectivity. I can handle sex in a story, but I find it irritating and tiresome when it is the central focus.

I kept on reading to the end, in fact hurrying to get there, hoping it would bring some sort of redemption, give me something to appreciate. It did not. In the end, the story can be seen in a positive light or negatively. The reader can see a pointlessness in life or the beauty, the symmetry, of an unending cycle. I was left with feeling the former.

This novel was fairly well received, and I have noticed some excitement about it among bloggers, but it just didn’t do it for me. I try to balance my score between my personal feelings on a story and the merit I see in the writing. For that reason I’m giving Being Dead by Jim Crace a half point higher than my gut tells me.

Rating: 2.5 2.0

Update: In an effort to be more honest with myself I have changed the rating.



  1. Matt- I agree with your assessment. I too started reading this book with high expectations, mostly because of the reviews that I had read. Maybe it was the heightened expectations that led to disappointment, but it was not an enjoyable read for me.

  2. Thanks for the warning. I’ll pass on this one.

  3. I’ve been really wanting to red this, but your review and Brad’s echoing of your opinion makes me wonder if I’ll be disappointed, too.

    When you hurry through a book like that to find out how it ends, does that make you want to read it again at a slower pace? That happens to me, but only if it’s a book I ended up loving, and it doesn’t sound like you loved this at all.

  4. Hmm, I haven’t heard of this and probably wouldn’t pick it up now. Thanks for the review.

  5. Brad – I was expecting to get some comments from people with the opposite opinion of me, a lot of people seem to really like this book. Heightened expectations may have been part of the issue for me too.

    Framed – My biggest fear with a negative review is causing someone to pass on a book that would have liked it had they read it, but I guess I can’t just give everything a good review…

    Dewey – I have had books that I wished I’d taken more time reading, but like you they are books that I enjoyed.

    Tara – You’re welcome, I just hope for my reviews to be helpful to someone. 🙂

  6. Hmmmm…..I’ve heard mixed reviews about this one anyone. Kind of a love it/hate it sort of book. Probably won’t be adding it to my TBR any time soon though. Too many other books out there I WANT to read!!

    Nicely done! I think it’s much harder to write reviews about books you disliked than it is if you like them.

  7. Matt, I did “enjoy” this one, and rated it on the upper end of my rating scale, but I can easily understand why many readers would not like it at all. What first attracted me to the book was its unusual subject matter (the almost minute-by-minute description of what was happening to the two dead bodies exposed to the elements) and I wondered whether or not Crace would be able to pull it off. IMO, he did, but I certainly agree that there were few, if any, likable characters in the book, especially to me, the couple’s daughter.

    It’s not a book I would ever want to read twice but it was unusual enough to earn itself a few bonus points, I thought. I suspect that this book is one that falls into the “Love It or Hate It” category…with few opinions between the two extremes.

  8. I’ve haven’t heard of this book but I have been thinking about picking up his newest book The Pesthouse, another postapocalyptic novel in the same vein as The Road and Sharpe’s Jamestown. The Pesthouse has also been receiving mixed reviews. I’ve been going back and forth on the subject but after reading your review my decision seems to be sliding to the “nay” end of the spectrum.

  9. Stephanie – I think you’re right about the love it/hate it feelings on the book.

    Sam Houston – I actually read your review as I was curious to what other people thought. The description of the bodies reminded me of Stiff, and really wasn’t a turnoff for me. It was a lot of the other stuff. I was hoping someone who liked it would leave a comment, so I thank you for that, opposing view points are always good.

    J.S. Peyton – I’ve been hearing a lot about The Pesthouse, but probably won’t read it after my experience with Being Dead.

  10. Speaking of The Pesthouse, I took a quick look at an interview that Crace did someplace (can’t remember where I saw it now) and was struck with how anti-American he sounded in the interview when speaking about why he set this particular book in the U.S., etc. It was enough of a turn-off to me that I decided right then and there to pass on this one.

  11. […] Wrinkle in Time)52. Quixotical (Four and Twenty Blackbirds)53. Jen Robinson (Hugo & Miles)54. Matt (Being Dead)55. Matt (56. Matt (Atonement)57. Framed (Stardust)58. Framed (Good Omens)59. Carrie K. (Sex, […]

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