02 July 2011

Books: The Passage by Justin Cronin (2010)

For me, the biggest issue I had with Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic novel, The Passage, was I could not get emotionally attached to any of the characters. He starts out with a good idea, and spends 250 pages setting it all up, and then just as the novel appears to really kick in, it falls off a massive cliff and only recovers –somewhat - towards the latter half. What’s in between is nothing but bland, undefined characters –mostly like the red shirt security guards on the original run of Star Trek – who you really can feel nothing for.

The Passage begins around 2018, and lays the ground work for what later would be a post-apocalyptic world that is overrun by vampire-like beings that are infected by a highly contagious virus. What begins as a project (NOAH, one the many Bible references throughout the novel) to develop a new immunity-boosting drug based on a virus carried by an unnamed species of bat in South America eventually becomes the virus that transforms the world. Then the novel jumps ahead more than ninety years later as colonies of humans attempt to live in a world filled with superhuman creatures who are continually on the hunt for fresh blood.

One of the reasons I stopped reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was due to the 50 million characters he introduced (well that, and the I got bored). And like Jordan’s characters, most, if not all of the ones featured here, are one dimensional at best, and at times, I could not tell one from the other. The all seemed…so disposable.

The only potentially interesting character is Amy, yet she is strangely underused here (but that may change, as I’ve learned this is the first book in a proposed trilogy). And while I tried to like the characters, like teenage Caleb, I never felt any emotional attachment to him (which is unusual for me). And as for the colony –which resembles in structure Brian Matthews 2005 novel New Wilderness – Cronin seems to go out of his way to make it the most boring thing.

The novel is also about 400 pages too long, and is filled with a bunch of needless, often pointless scenes. I suppose, maybe, Cronin needs this stuff, cause it might pop up in books 2 and three (due, apparently, in 2012 and 2014), but right now, it all seems just filler between the first 250 pages, and the last 100 or so.

As I write this, I scratch my head and search my brain to figure out why this book was so hugely popular last summer when it came out in hard cover and why it appeared on so many Top 10 lists for 2010. It’s not well written, and nowhere near approaches the classic end-of-the-world novels like The Stand, On the Beach, or The Road. It fails to scare and, what I consider its biggest flaw, it fails for the reader to care about anyone.


Loki's Log said...

Thanks for the heads up on this novel. It got such amazing hype but I really struggle with post-apocalyptic narratives even Cormac McCarthy's.

Tim said...

Couldn't disagree more. Disclaimer: I listened to the audiobook version read by Scott Brick so I'm sure that definitely influenced the way the story was portrayed.

What I loved about the book was how effectively Cronin developed ALL of the characters including the minor ones. Its definitely slow at times but this was one of the best things I've "read" in a long time.

I would get frustrated when he would switch storylines because I'd be so into what was going on but then I'd get just as in to the next storyline. There's definitely a lot of inward exposition as a lot of things happen inside the character's heads and I can see how that might be a turn off for some, but I really dug it.

I also hadn't heard anything about it and just picked it up on a whim so I'm sure that made a big difference as well, but man I liked it!