Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Passage by Justin Cronin

A futuristic apocalyptic zombie/vampire/mutant thriller, based around an immortal little girl with magical powers called Amy. As ridiculous as it sounds.

Five Things You Really Should Know About The Passage Before You Attempt To Read It

1. The First Half

The outbreak of a deadly virus which turns the world’s population into murderous immortal super-humans had the potential be quite an interesting read. Throw in some sympathetic, engaging characters and a compelling plot and BAM! You’ve got yourself a bestseller. The first half of the plot generally followed this formula; great characters, some really memorable scenes (the zoo scene and the chapter in which the virals escape especially stand out)-overall a worthy effort. I genuinely sympathised with and cared about the protagonists, especially Amy and her police officer, make-shift, foster parent Wolgast. Everything was going swimmingly. That is until the plot jumped forward a hundred years, and all the characters we had grown to love subsequently disappeared.

2. The plot jumped forward a hundred years, and all the characters we had grown to love subsequently disappeared.

Sorry. But it is worth saying twice. This was such a huge risk to take with the plot and I really didn’t feel it paid off. Halfway through the novel, we’re introduced to a completely new set of characters; a community of survivors trying to put the bread on the table without being torn to shreds by the bloodthirsty mutants who roam the neighbourhood. The new characters themselves (Peter the eponymous hero, his brother Theo, Alicia, the token cold, beautiful and deadly female, and about a hundred and sixteen others) were incredibly uninteresting and all came with long established histories and relationships that I found difficult and frankly, boring to piece together. It was like starting a new, different book, just at the point where the original was starting to get interesting. I even resorted to flicking the pages ahead to make sure that Amy does turn up eventually, so that the book’s first half wasn’t rendered completely pointless. This would all be fine- if the book was under 800 pages long.

3. Did I mention the length?

Good God, this was a long read which, again, would be fine if for the most part it wasn’t filled with mind-numbing pointless details. If you’re considering reading this, my advice would be to hack off everything after page 300 with a flick knife and hand it to the nearest available tramp to burn for warmth. I bet even the smoke it gives off would be dull.
About 67% of this novel is made of unnecessary titbits of information, sometimes lasting for entire chapters. If there was a clever and compelling plot to make up for this ceaseless hoarding of minutiae, I could forgive the author (I’m looking at YOU, Tolkien), but it barely even scrapes that. What’s worse is that this that The Passage is only part one of a confirmed trilogy, which I find slightly unbelievable.

4. The Tone

This is a vain book, a book which thinks it is a lot better than it actually is. Only with complete self-assurance could the author introduce aspects such as “Flyers!”-what he imagines to be a commonly used swear word hundred years from now. Only with supreme confidence in his characters’ integrity could he allow most of their actions to be taken up by meaningless humdrum tasks. And to make a trilogy of this…this really is credence at its highest. Cronin has tried to make an epic but has failed to grasp that the word “epic” is not necessarily synonymous with the word “long”. However much it so desperately tries, I Am Legend, this is not-it doesn’t even have the grittiness of I Am Fighter.

5. The Unoriginality

I mentioned I Am Legend, and at the end of the day, there are hundreds of other post-apocalyptic dystopian vampire (virals, vampires, whatever) novels that are shorter, smarter and simply better written than The Passage. The Passage is what you get when you castrate The Stand, from which it has heavily borrowed; the two do display some uncanny similarities (the significant dreams, a war between good and evil, a community of survivors placing an elderly black woman at the centre, etcetera, etcetera, et-bloody-cetra). In contrast to the The Passage though, The Stand is a novel with intense depth and meaning.
If nothing else, the front cover of The Passage should give you clue-whilst I’m sure it was designed to convey a potent mixture of mystery and horror, the greyish dirty face of Amy simply displays an unmistakable look of boredom.



  1. Flippin' genius review! and I completely concur with your observations--every one of them. I read this on a trip to Florida in May of this year, and I almost didn't bring it home with me. I've pretty much decided not continue on with this trilogy too. Your review of this book was superb and simply spot-on.

    Also, I just wanted you to know that I love that you post poetry on your blog. I do too, and it is none too popular with the masses. Oh well, I love poetry, and I'll keep posting it talking about it. I'm glad I ran across your pages here, and I'll be back. Cheers! Chris

  2. Wow, what a really lovely comment!

    It's great to see somebody else blogging about poetry - like you say, it doesn't seem to be a massively popular trend which I can't really understand....

    Anyway, your comment has pretty much made my day. You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar! Roisin