The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage is a exhilarating and tense post-apocalyptic story that spans the decades before and after a virus has been released by the US Military and destroyed the world as we know it.

It begins as a tapestry of stories from different characters perspectives. We read about a single mother, fighting to raise and support her daughter by waitressing and selling her body to unknown men. We read emails written by a scientist from a jungle in Bolivia, learning that he is known as the ‘vampire guy’ and is on a strange and difficult journey with the military. We get closer to the crux of the story when we are introduced to Agent Wolgast, who’s job it is to convince death row inmates to participate in a military owned scientific experiment, and to then ensure that any record of that person’s existence is wiped entirely. The story then takes a climactic turn when he is asked to kidnap the daughter of the single mother that we meet at the books opening.

It is at this point too that we finally meet the ‘virals’, who are actually humans that have been infected by a virus that makes them almost immortal, super powerful, blood hungry and ready to destroy the world as we know it.

We are suddenly thrust into a world that is unfamiliar to us as the reader. We are introduced to a post-apocalyptic community, living in a gated colony and struggling to survive against the attacks of the virals. Slowly, the stories that we caught glimpses in the early stages of the book are again woven together, and we follow some of the inhabitants of this gated colony on a journey across America, with a young girl fated to save the world, as they battle against the virals, to see if they can find any hope for future survival.

The ever changing genre of the book was sometimes distracting, but for the most part it was fast paced and extremely tense. The novels begins as a thriller, despite elements of the supernatural and science fiction. It is a race against time as FBI agents kidnap abandoned children and kill those that get in their way and the military keeps people at secret military bases and holds people hostage.

Then as we are introduced the post-apocalyptic world, it turns into more of a fantasy novel. At this stage I felt out of my comfort zone. The lifestyle, behaviours and laws of the gated colony were so unfamiliar that I initially I couldn’t identify with the characters or the story. I found it hard to adjust from this fast paced thriller I had been reading to this slow paced fantasy novel. It became slow going and I actually considered giving up the book.

Fortunately, the story picked up again when earlier characters that has disappeared returned, and I again I became enthralled. In the latter sections of the book, it felt closer to a combination of a thriller and Cormac McArthy’s The Road, with elements of science fiction. In the end I was able to move past all the different styles and just be drawn into the action.

The book was character driven and the characters were nuanced, even if Cronin forces the nuances upon you. Everyone had their strengths and their weaknesses; their good points and their bad. In fact, the book dealt with very adult and real issues; survival, death, the effects of nuclear weaponry, disease, marriage and divorce. The issues that the characters had to deal with on a personal level and within their relationships with each other were very authentic.

Even Cronin’s depiction of the virals was nuanced. They were closer to being human that you might originally think; they were able to recognise that their actions were wrong without being able to prevent themselves from committing the atrocities that they do. The complexities of the virals became clearer as the story progressed.

Because of this, it is not really a vampire/paranormal/supernatural novel. The virals are simply humans who have been infected by a disease that has transformed them into something other than human. I feel almost uncomfortable about talking about supernatural elements and fantasy, although I recognise there are not really any other words for it. It very rarely feels like you are reading about something supernatural. Instead it feels like you are reading a possible future. I might almost be tempted to call this speculative fiction of the kind that Atwood writes (although very different story of course).

Although Cronin is obviously a talented and award winning writer, this certainly isn’t a literary novel. There is no subtlety to the writing or the dialogue. Having said that, the writing was still significantly better than what you might normally expect from popular fiction, and I think it the perfect blend of popular fiction and good writing for someone who wouldn’t normally read this kind of book (like me).

There were some things in the book that just didn’t make sense and I wish had been explained. Why hadn’t the virals the expedition met in Bolivia already taken over the world before the military ones escaped? Why did Lacey have a strange connection to Amy? Why could Amy talk to animals before she was infected with the virus (that’s not a spoiler, you find out as much in the opening line) and why does she intimate that ‘they know who she is’ when at that stage she is no one special? How could Wolgast’s partner tell that Lacey was journeying to the army facility? There were other unresolved issues throughout the story that I am sure I will find the answers to in the following novels. But these are questions that don’t seem to have any plausible answers and were just left unnecessarily unexplained.

Despite some misgivings in the middle of the book, I very much enjoyed this book. It was everything you could want from popular fiction; fast-paced, action-packed, enthralling and with skilled writing as well. There was violence, there was sex, there was love and everything in between. Don’t let the books size or genre put you off this exciting read.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
Extremely tense, genre-changing, thrilling read. It is undoubtedly extremely large, but it didn't take nearly as long to read as you might expect.

Do I recommend this book?
Yes, I really do. I especially recommend it to other people like me, who appreciate good literature. This is such a good blend of good writing and popular fiction that it is well worth a try.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Again, yes I do. This a book that will stand up well to re-reading I think.


Star Rating

7.5 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Recommend that you buy it. I will definitely be reading the rest of this exciting series.


11 comments

  1. Maybe those unexplained things will become clearer in the follow up books. As far as I a aware this is the first in a planned trilogy.

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  2. THANK YOU! I have been hearing so much gushing about this book, but little in the way of substantive reviews. Having said that, I am not sure that I want to read it after reading your review. LOL.

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  3. I'm very curious about this book for some reason... hmm is it out in the UK yet? Ugh I don't buy hardbacks though... library it or wait till a paperback... ack.

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  4. I think you did an excellent job reviewing this. (I just read it but haven't written my review yet.) I did have many of the same questions you did ... for all the pages in the book, there were some questions that just didn't get answered.

    And I do object to it being called a vampire book; I think the virals are Cronin's own unique creation and only tangentially related to vampires.

    Well done!

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  5. Excellent and encouraging. Thanks

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  6. You wrote an awesome review! I sure can't wait to read it now! I just have 2 books in between, since their reviews are due soon.

    I kind of feel that I will enjoy this book - I "enjoy" reading and watching anything apocalyptic. I even enjoyed 2012 - can you believe that? My friends hated it, but I've always been fascinated by what can go wrong. Almost the same reason I like dystopia and books on dysfunctional families.

    Anyways, thanks for the well-done review - I have a better idea of what to expect from this book.

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  7. This still doesn't feel like my type of book but I am going to give it a try....

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  8. this book is a slight push out of my normal reads but thanks to my faith in your taste I will buy this as soon as I see it in paperback

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  9. Sounds really interesting, I like how the genre of the book always changes. At first the idea of a vampire-viral thingo turned me off, but you've convinced me otherwise. Might keep a look out for this book!

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  10. I love reading books like this. And I'm pleasantly surprised to see that even people who don't normally enjoy books like this are enjoying the Passage. The size is daunting, and definitely part of the reason why I have been putting off reading it for a while now, but I'm extremely eager to dig into it.

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