09 January 2011

Post 288: The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin.  ISBN: 9780345504968.

Another thing this book did, that I think it did very well, was the divergence of cultures.  We saw three post-Bad Shit Happened societies, all of which had their own customs and languages.  One was militarized, one was governed by households in a sort of mostly predetermined roles in society sort of thing, and the last I feel is a bit too spoilery to talk about in detail, but let's just say it was pretty cult-like.

The thing he succeeded with most was the diverging of language.  Each group had their own term for the "vampires."  They were known as smokes, virals, and dracs and each community more or less stuck to their word of choice when referring to them.  There were other language developments that occurred in the book to refer to certain aspects of life in the Post-Bad (as I will now refer to any such event in a book, from now on and forever).  I think I'll talk about two of my favorites, mostly because there are lots of these in here, and uh, I'm sure you'd like to enjoy discovering them for yourself.

My first favorite phrase is "living in his own time now."  This happened whenever people knew they were dying or doing something dangerous that would likely get them killed.  I like it because it implies that people who are close to death, either because they are sick or in dangerous professions, sort of live in a time outside of everyone else.  You can almost feel what people mean when they say it, and it definitely invokes the whole "everyone dies alone" philosophy and kind of amplifies it by ten.  It's as if, not only are they dying alone, but they aren't even on the same level existence as everyone else anymore.  And I have to imagine that's what it would feel like to be that close to death and to know that you are that close to death.

My second phrase is probably "taken up."  This probably doesn't seem like it's all that important, but if you can imagine something worse than death, something like becoming a violent blood-sucking monster, wouldn't you come up with a euphemism for it?  And that is exactly what this is.  Instead of saying, "he became a viral/drac/smoke" these people say that someone was taken up.  It is somehow more powerful to say it this way, even though they are not directly referring to what is happening.  It's probably because using this phrase does a better job of displaying exactly how afraid people are of becoming vampires and how distasteful and discomforting it is to even talk about it in the Post-Bad.

I will say one thing against Cronin, I don't think he did enough of this.  Given that these pockets of civilization became completely isolated from each other, and in completely different areas of the country,  I'm pretty sure the language would have diverged more than it did in the novel.  Still, I think it was an excellent attempt, and probably something that a less adept novelist would have overlooked.  For anyone who read the book, what did you think of these linguistic developments?  Or are there others books you've enjoyed that have explored this aspect of language?

There is a great video interview with Justin Cronin and librarian Nancy Pearl.  It's on the longish side, but if you've already read the book or are thinking about it, this will help you enjoy it even more.  Since this has so much hype, here is a review with trepidation from The Word Zombie.  I thought it only appropriate to include a positive (but still pointing out flaws), if very detailed review from Love Vampires, no spoilers though; they talk about theme, character, character development, plot development, etc.
LibsNote: Copy from the library.

1 comment:

  1. The reason I hail A Clockwork Orange as one of my favorite novels ever is entirely because of the slang words used in it (well, and I really liked the struggle of old vs. young, so not entirely). Studying Russian was very interesting as I kept seeing the words pop up, as Burgess based his slang off of the language. "Oh, right, 'nadsat' means 'teen', that's why they call it that! And 'droog' is 'friend'! It's like A Clockwork Orange! Russian is awesome!" (Sadly, it wasn't.)

    Granted, that wasn't derived from the devolution of society, but was the lingo of a group meant to befuddle and leave out those not part of their group. But I like language bits that are derived both ways; a good post-apocalyptic language shift always brightens up a novel for me.


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