We all know how it’s supposed to go, thanks to warehouses full of movies and libraries full of novels – when civilization ends, those who remain are left to scrounge together a living among the discarded relics of lives that were led, and proved to mean absolutely nothing. How the world ends – and this is actually what it’s about, isn’t it? We are selfish and have no real conception of ‘civilization’; when civilization falls, it is our own personal worlds that crumble into dust – is not really important; sure, the reasons are interesting, from a dramatic or scientific or mystical point of view (that’s aimed at you, 2012’vers), but what actually matters is what will happen after it ends. How will the people that survive the end of everything they know and have come to take for granted react, live, carry on?
This is, at its deepest heart, what I think The Passage is about; that journey from ‘this’ into ‘that which waits’, and how those who had the good fortune to survive make the journey.
First off – Justin Cronin is a man who will -hopefully, if he can stay away from natural or un-natural disasters, etc- probably become a legendary writer and storyteller. I’m not saying this lightly at all, believe me; I’ve read literally thousands of books since I started reading, from different genres, for different reasons, and sometimes, I’ll admit it, I’ve listened to the hype surrounding a particular novel and thought, “You know what? I’d be an idiot not to read that.” Not because I’m prone to hype, exactly, but because I’m, prone to being infected with excitement. Hearing about The Passage way back definitely piqued my interest, but not so much that I was waiting on tenterhooks for the book to hit the shelves – movies like The Road and I Am Legend were still fresh in my mind (no. I haven’t read either novel, but I will, one day) and with the whole population of the world (or very nearly so) having some knowledge about the Mayan take on 2012, the ‘end of the world’ or ‘the fall of civilization’ really wasn’t as exciting or interesting anymore. Sure, the movies I’ve seen about the End were all exciting and awesome for their own reasons, and there’s something strangely thrilling about watching the planet become a wasteland, or completely explode; but the fact of the matter is it had been done to death. From every conceivable angle. But there’s just so much more to this novel than what anyone expects – I’ve sold the book (I’m a bookseller, for those who don’t know) as a literary horror novel, but that, also, is just a fraction of what The Passage is.
But forget about the hype. The hype will have you thinking and expecting many things about The Passage, and it’s akin to being able to perfectly describe the beauty of a ray of sunlight entering a darkened room – you just can’t, or not as well as you’d like. The novel is stuffed, absolutely stuffed, with so much that concentrating on any one aspect of it is like looking at a pebble on a mountainside and believing it to be more interesting and beautiful than the mountain itself. It’s the same reason why I’m not going to give you my thoughts on the plot or the characters or the myriad rhythms and emotions and scents that fill the book – I’d be focusing your attention on that pebble, attractive though it may be.
All I will say is that I cried after reading the first chapter – not torrents of tears, but I was captured in an incredible moment. The last time that happened was with Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones, and before that, with Whiskeyjack in Memories of Ice. Yes, I am a guy who is not afraid of crying, but that’s beside the point. There are just scenes in novels that really affect you, and after 5 minutes of reading, in the first chapter of The Passage, I was crying. Am I saying that this novel is sad? For sure. But it is so much more, and to really give yourself a chance of catching even a glimpse of what The Passage has to offer, you need to allow yourself to cry when you read something sad or cheer when you read something awesome. I want to say that The Passage isn’t suited to readers who enjoy light reading material, but I hope that you, too, will give this book a try. It probably won’t be for everyone -no novel can claim that, or ever will- but a helluva lot of people will probably be swept away by The Passage – I was, and I’ll gladly admit it.
Justin Cronin is an absolutely incredible writer and storyteller. Fact.
10 / 10