Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Passage - Justin Cronin

I have to say that for some reason all the publicity and hype about 'The Passage' by Justin Cronin managed to pass me by and I only became aware of the book when I found it on the shelves of the Horror section of my local library.  Cronin had started to write his epic novel telling the story of a virus induced vampire apocalypse in 2007 and says that he put together the story on afternoon jogs around his local streets with his young daughter Iris on her bicycle.  What happened after that is every author's dream, as when his agent started touting the novel around publishers, it triggered a frenzied, intense bidding war. The rights to publish 'The Passage' were eventually secured by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, for $3.75 along with two other books to complete the trilogy and the film rights were bought for $1.75.  Wow!

So one of the first things to be aware of before you dive into 'The Passage' is that it is a long book, the paperback copy I have is 963 pages long, so not one that even the fastest of readers is going to be able to gulp down in an afternoon.  But it would be the perfect book for long, lazy afternoons on that sun lounger or to while away the hours on a long haul flight.  It is also, to my mind, a book that invites comparisons, the most immediate being on to Stephen King's incomparable 'The Stand'.  It follows the same story line of the build up to the break down and end of the world as we know it and then the story of some of the survivors, albeit in 'The Passage' the story picks up after a hundred year break from when the apocalypse hit. It also reminded me a bit of the 2002 film 'Reign of Fire' where the world is terrorised from the skies by fire-breathing dragons, especially the scenes involving teaching the children and keeping them safe.

So what was the momentous, tragic event that all but destroys human civilisation in 'The Passage'?  Again it follows a relatively common theme, there is a top secret government experiment being conducted in the USA where prisoners who had been condemned to death were being injected with a virus that had been discovered in South America.  Ironically, the experiment was designed to find a way for humans to stay alive forever, and the virus changed the men into a type of preternaturally strong and quick vampire-like creature that never died. The experiment starts to fall apart when they introduce a strange six year old girl called Amy into the programme; the test subjects, who are known as virals or dracos, start infiltrating the dreams and minds of their captors and break free.  The devastation is immediate and catastrophic and in a few short months the fabric of American society has totally crumbled and the dark hours of the night are no longer safe.

We are then taken to the Colony, which comprises of a small band of humans that has managed to survive and scrape out a living for a hundred years after the advent of the virals.  They survive because they have have powerful lights that protect them during the hours of darkness, but they lead a very precarious existence.  The one thing that most of them do not know is that one day the lights will go out, as the batteries that feed them power deteriorate.  The tight-knit community of the Colony is thrown into disarray when one of its young watchers, Theo Jaxon, is taken by the virals and a strange young girl appears out of nowhere.

The inhabitants of the Colony do not know it at the time, but this young girl who causes them so much unease and is the trigger for quarrels and violence, is the key to their salvation and is the same Amy that was held in the secret government bunker a hundred years ago.  So it falls on young Peter, Theo's brother, to lead a small group out into the dangerous outside world that they had never before explored, to find the key to the mysterious Amy, to find some other humans to help them with their batteries and assuage Peter's nagging feeling that his brother was still alive out there somewhere.

So will the small band of brave humans be able to survive the dark nights out in the open, when the powerful virals range freely hunting for blood?  And will they find that they are not alone and that other groups of humans have survived?  And most importantly, will finding out the truth about Amy, give them the key to destroying the virals and reclaiming their world once again?

It's a long book so you will need more than lunch to keep you going.  It is the kind of book where you get really involved in the characters and you will probably pick your favourites and root for them to survive.  There are some very sad bits however, so chocolate and lashings of tea are called for.  It really seems to be a book about how you keep going and keep the human spirit alive, when it seems that you are up against impossible odds. A book about how you maintain hope in the future in a world of diminishing resources and increasing dangers.  A book that shows that we all need someone or something to follow or believe in; and in 'The Passage' that something is a strange young girl called Amy and an unsure, struggling young man called Peter.

The next instalment of the trilogy 'The Twelve' is due out on 18th December 2012 - a book about the apocalypse published so close to the date of 21st December that some say will be the end of the world? Marketing or synchronicity I wonder?

No comments:

Post a Comment