16 July 2009

Jim Crace, Continent, 1986

— A novel in seven stories, Continent is an exploration of the cultures, communities and natural life of an entirely imaginary realm. Built on rich seams of myth and metaphot, this new, seventh continent is strange, atmospheric and yet not wholly a mirage, for its inhabitants are disarmingly familiar, known to us through their loves, their hopes and their struggles to make sense of life.

Continent achieved quite a trio of honours for a debut British author. It’s seven short stories provide no geographical details yet it does still feel like more than just an imaginary realm, and in some respects is also reminiscent of Christopher Priest’s The Dream Archipelago. Some stories focus on how Europe and America relate culturally to its rather backward population, and there’s no doubt the best story among them is ‘Sins and Virtues’, by far the easiest to understand from a cultural perspective and also the best plotted. The rest of these stories are difficult to engage with for a variety of different reasons but are all self-evidently significant, and they demand close attention as there’s not a wasted word anywhere. Cautiously recommended, but without reservation if you go in for Italo Calvino.  PY

  Continent won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, the Guardian Fiction Prize and the David Higham Prize for Fiction, all in 1986.


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