For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been lugging around an 800 page hardcover wherever I went, sneaking pages on the subway, in the food court, and practically everywhere else I could find the time. I once attempted to read this 800 page hardcover with one hand, simply because the subway was too jerky for me to keep my balance without holding on to something. My point: Justin Cronin’s The Passage is just very, very difficult to put down.
My one sentence (and completely inadequate) summary of the 800 pages: a military experiment goes wrong and humans must now survive in a world populated by vampires. Vampirism is a virus, and heads up, Twilight fans – these vampires don’t just sparkle; they glow like radioactive glow sticks. Seriously, these vampires are far from Meyer’s vamps, or even Anne Rice’s seductive creatures of the night. Cronin’s vampires are very much like Richard Matheson’s vampires in I Am Legend – savage, blood sucking zombies.
The Passage reads like a movie – action-packed and full of twists. It’s an exciting science fiction/horror thriller and like all good books in those genres, gets you emotionally invested in the characters. I was surprised by that, considering the format of the book. Passage begins in the year 5 B.V. (Before Virus, I presume), chronicling the failure of the military experiment up to Year Zero. Then about a third of the way through, the book makes a leap into the year 92 A.V. Having come to care for in the characters of the first part of the book, it was jarring to be introduced to a completely new cast. The only character who plays a major role in both parts of the book is Amy, a six year old orphan who is seen as a possible solution for the vampire virus. We do find out what happens to some of the other major characters from the B.V. era, and quite honestly, a few chapters into the A.V. era portion, I’d already become so involved in the relationships among new cast of characters that I no longer as interested in what happened to the people from B.V.
The world had completely transformed in almost a century, and the characters in the A.V. era can’t even imagine how the world must have existed before being overrun with the vampire virus. In one of my favourite scenes, two of the characters are talking about Where the Wild Things Are, and finding it hard to understand how such an unrealistic tale could have be so appealing in the Time Before. Peter and his friends cannot afford to indulge in fantasies. Yet they still fall in love, start families, and the little things become even more precious because of the threat that any day, they can all be eaten or infected by vampires. In one of my favourite passages from the book, Maus, who is pregnant, says, “A baby wasn’t an idea, as love was an idea. A baby was a fact…Just by existing, it demanded that you believe in a future…A baby was the oldest deal there was, to go on living.” There’s also a great love triangle between Peter, Alicia and Sara, and I was cheering for Sara (the Eponine figure) all the way.
Cronin intersperses his narrative with passages from journals, ostensibly discussed in conferences 1000+ A.V., which adds a sense of detachment to very emotional material. The way he uses such a segment to end the book left me just thinking: Wow. It’s a wallop of an ending, heightened by the sense of detachment. These segments also raise questions, as Cronin mentions conferences for studying human behaviour. In the long term then, do vampires win? Or, as I prefer to think, humans win and it’s humans in the future studying humans of the past?
Fair warning: Passage ends on a cliff hanger. It’s the first in a trilogy, with the next instalment coming out in 2012, and a possible movie later on. If you find the 800 page hardcover too cumbersome to carry around, Passage is also out in ebook and will be out in paperback this May.