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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Passage: Going Viral

Justin Cronin's The Passage was the hit novel of 2010. Everyone read it. Everyone raved about it. Everyone waited in eager anticipation for the next novel in the trilogy (The Twelve, which is out this October). But I skipped it. No particular reason — just never got to it. 

So having picked up an ARC of The Twelve at BEA, I figured I'd finally give The Passage a go — a first step in getting over my hesitation of reading long series before all the books are out.

And you what? It's not half bad after all. It's a familiar story, to be sure — a government experiment with a virus wipes out most of the population, leaving a small band of survivors to carry the torch for humanity. A "chosen one" — a girl named Amy — helps this band of noble straggles make a "passage" across the country to try to find out who she is, and if humanity really does have a future.

Of course, the comparison's to Stephen King's The Stand are inevitable. But there is one key difference — whereas The Stand was a pitched battle of good vs. evil, The Passage is simply good (or is it?) vs. vampires (or virals, smokes, or dracs, as they're referred to in the novel); mindless creatures programmed to kill humans so they can survive. So, they're no more evil than a polar bear that kills salmon to live. The only evil characters are the government henchman who start the viral weapons program at the beginning of the novel. And then, it's pretty obvious that they're evil.

So, again, you know this story. But what sets The Passage apart is that, with the exception some wooden dialogue here and there, The Passage is better written by about a factor of 20 than just about any of those genre humankind-wipeout stories. Cronin is a master of pacing — writing action scenes and moody, atmospheric "set-up scenes" with equal aplomb. Here's an example of Cronin's writing, a quote I really liked: "Courage is easy when the alternative is getting killed. It's hope that's hard." 

There's nothing extraordinarily heady here — it makes for great plane reading. There's action. There's romance. There's blood and gore and death. But with hints of religion and the philosophy of history, there are interesting questions the novel asks its readers to consider. How seriously do we take stories that are ostensibly allegories? Are they really allegories after all? (Noah's ark, for instance?)

Regarding history, Cronin often includes diary entries from the main characters that are presented at a conference a thousand years later. It's an interesting tactic that makes us consider the two types of storytelling — the first-person from the characters' perspectives, and Cronin's own omniscient perspective. Normally, this shift in narration bugs me. Here, it worked.

I'd say this is a four-out-of-five stars novel. I really enjoyed it and read it quickly (mostly on planes). It loses a star for slipping into the too-familiar from time to time. But overall, highly recommended.

16 comments:

  1. Glad that you finally got around to reading The Passage,Greg(and I so envy your ARC of The Twelve!)and happy to hear that you liked it. Looking forward to reading your review of The Twelve,which should be the must-read for the fall.

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    1. The good news (or bad news, depending on your viewpoint): The Twelve is significantly shorter than The Passage. Almost by half.

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  2. I am not a fan of vampire or sci fi novels by any means, but I loved The Passage! I would probably give my own blood for a copy of The Twelve, you lucky dog! lol

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    1. Me either, and it took me awhile of ignoring all the press about The Passage before someone set me straight and I realized it wasn't actually a vampire or really a sci fi novel, either. It's more of an apocalypse story - but very well written. Bordering on literary fiction in some spots.

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  3. This book creeped me out but I still liked it despite it not being something I normally read. Can't wait for The Twelve!

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    1. Not something I'd normally read either, but call me a sucker for the hype. :)

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed The Passage, too. It isn't a genre I traditionally read, but it very much caught the beauty of people surviving in a hostile landscape. If no one has claimed dibs on your copy of The Twelve when you finish, I will.

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    1. The "this isn't something I'd normally read, but I loved it" comment seems to be fairly common, and it's certainly the case for me, too. My "signed books collection" has dibs on my copy next! ;)

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  5. Glad you enjoyed it. I loved it as well. I have heard a lot of people give it a miss because it was so popular and doesn't sound like something they would normally enjoy, but every person I have recommended it to and who has read it has absolutely loved it. Can't wait for The Twelve!

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    1. People like that are close-minded snobs, to put it bluntly. Yes, despite this tragic 50 Shades thing going on right now, it is possible for something that is popular to be of very high quality, too.

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  6. Well, that looks cool. At least you present it well. At this point, I'll take any novel that doesn't portrays vampires as 1) in love with a human or 2) a sexy, leather clad creature.

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  7. Yeah my husband loved The Passage so I need to get with it & read it before The Twelve arrives. The Passage sounds good to me. I'm game. Though the length sort of makes me hesitate. http://www.thecuecard.com/

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  8. I put off reading The Passage for a while too, just because it was so damn long and I wasn't convinced it was good enough to justify the time investment (and lugging it around with me). But after some friends told me how fantastic it was I bought the ebook and I'm so glad! I'm really looking forward to The Twelve, but I have to admit I'm not sorry that it's shorter.

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  9. I got The Passage as an ARC and was surprised to find that I enjoyed it. My only complaint is that much of the first half of the book is rendered meaningless by the second half's jump into the future.

    Of course, it could all come back in the sequel (and I hope it does), but there was an awful lot of build up that never developed into much by the end.

    Even so, it was a fast read for the length and was entertaining the whole way, so I'm definitely interested in the next one (or two).

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  10. I really struggled to get through this book and I normally love long books. I just kept on
    Losing interest and found myself skimming the pages. I liked the whole concept of the book, but I will not be reading the next book in the series.

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