Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 1999-2000

Being Dead, by Jim Crace

reviewed by Alison Rowland

It might sound like the ultimate in morbid subject matter, but the slow decomposition of a body after a violent death forms the basis of what can only be described as a lyrical and absorbing novel and one worthy of attention from all committed humanists.

Jim Crace, who lives in Birmingham and is a self-confessed atheist, writes eloquently of the scientific process which follows the deaths of two middle-aged zoologists and contrasts this with the events of the day leading up to their demise and their original meeting. He also explores the equivocal reactions of their only daughter, Syl, to the sudden death of her parents.

Without any dogma or evangelising, Crace makes it clear through the thoughts and actions of all his characters that they are non-believers. Instead, the scientific morality of the characters is traced through their reactions to others and their own response to ageing. The clarity of the message that death is a firm full stop to any form of consciousness and that a rational response is to celebrate the good in the life of the deceased and resolve to emulate it is one familiar to those who know of the existence of humanist funerals. But this is a book worth recommending to friends who might be receptive to rejecting the hollow sentiments of condolence cards and hymn singing. Instead, give them the classic denials of the atheist which can form the basis of humanistic optimism, in Crace’s words, “The world’s small, breathing denizens, its quaking congregations and its stargazers, were fools to sacrifice the flaring briefness of their lives in hopes of paradise or fears of hell. No one transcends. There is no future and no past. There is no remedy for death – or birth – except to hug the spaces in between. Live loud. Live wide. Live tall.”

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Created : Sunday, 2000-01-30 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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