Jim Crace precedes his 1999 novel, Being Dead, with the quote from a poem by Sherwin Stephens:
Don't count on Heaven, or on Hell. You're dead. That's it. Adieu. Farewell. Eternity awaits? Oh, sure! It's Putrefaction and Manure And unrelenting Rot, Rot, Rot, As you regress, from Zoo. to Bot. I'll Grieve, of course, Departing wife, Though Grieving's never Lengthened Life Or coaxed a single extra Breath Out of a Body touched by Death.
I bought a copy of Crace's novel a couple of weeks ago and loved it. If you haven't read the book, it can be summed-up fairly succinctly: a couple in their fifties are murdered on a beach and what follows is a post-mortem of their lives and the physical processes that occur between the moment of death and the discovery of the bodies.
In the hands of a lesser writer, a description of the putrefication of the victims' bodies would be repugnant, but Crace's breathtakingly good prose finds a poignant beauty in the natural processes that occur. This is the atheist vision of death: meaningless, loveless and hopeless, but also without evil. For Crace, death is not the undiscovered country, but a process that can be chronicled with scientific precision. Crace's undiscovered country is life and memory.
However, there was one thing I found difficult about Being Dead and although I've searched extensively on Google, I haven't found a satisfactory answer. Where is the novel set? A sense of place is vital in a novel and even if the setting is a fictitious one, it is usually dovetailed into an instantly reconisable landscape. We know that Trollope's Barchester Chronicles are set in a southern English cathedral city, whilst David Lodge's University of Rummidge is clearly a thinly-disguised Birmingham. But where is Being Dead?
At first I assumed that Crace had set his novel in Britain, but I soon became aware of incongruities that was increasingly distracting as the narrative progressed. A mention of the 'local manac beans (and) green milk' was rather confusing, as were the references to drinking gleewater and Boulevard liquer. I went through a list of possible suspects: the West Indies, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and even Spain, but nothing fitted.
There was no gleewater or Boulevard liquer anywhere. Neither was there a poet called Sherwin Stephens. For some reason, Crace had decided to set this novel in a fictitious, unnamed country that contained elements of recognisable landscapes, but juxtaposed in a way that was unlike anywhere on earth. For me, that was the greatest mystery of Being Dead.
Hence the title of this posting: The Undiscovered Country. I apologise in advance to anyone who was hoping for a critique on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.