The realm of Mr. Crace's new novel is the strangest of all. It is death, or more exactly, it is the life in death and the death in life. For the former there are the flies' and crabs' assorted meals – for a moment we seem conjured into a sort of restaurant review – and the minute day-by-day charting of the changes in the two bodies on the beach. Not the bodies that were, but the bodies that still are Celice and Joseph … While Mr. Crace is imparting life, even jaunty life, to dissolution he is introducing death repeatedly into the knottily individual lives of Celice, Joseph and those they know … If the characters...are ostensibly on high-flown literary missions (dying, inhabiting prehistory, being God), their flights swoop so near ground level, in fact, that they whip up gravel, grass, gestures of startlement, and the smoke of human cooking fires.
We start their journey, in other words, where they disembark – which suggests an implacable resistance to sentimentality even as it grants an unexpected sort of mercy. Joseph and Celice are dead, murdered. Everything we'll learn eventually leads to this, but in backward-running time … The time spent with the corpses, as we might expect, is memorable. The scene of their death – they're both brained with a chunk of granite – is handled with a dispassionate, impressionistic brio … Few novels are as unsparing as this one in presenting the ephemerality of love given the implacability of death, and few are as moving in depicting the undiminished achievement love nevertheless represents.
Jim Crace’s new novel, Being Dead, is in its small-scale way a sort of reverse-Darwinian epic, an End of Species. At the close of the book he sets his two central characters, Joseph and Celice, firmly among the democratic orders of the dead … About halfway through Being Dead, the alert reader will realize that what he has in his hands is a traditional novel of English manners sprinkled with some of the props and themes of the campus novel à la David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury, though without the laughs … Constantly in these pages one is brought up short by prosaic figures cast, arbitrarily, it would seem, in poetic form. The cumulative effect is not so much 'hypnotic,' pace the [English] reviewers, as dulling: what is intended as poetry often succeeds only in sounding like doggerel...There are passages of haunting beauty in Being Dead, but there are moments, too, when the poetry overwhelms the sense.