Call me morbid, but I enjoy a good apocalypse.
Whether it be the suburban hell of Dawn of the Dead’s zombie-infested shopping mall, the small town devastation of Jericho or the frantic terror of Stephen King’s Cell, there’s something compelling about the idea of the end of everything. Standing head and shoulders above them all as my favourite is another King masterpiece – The Stand.
It was no surprise to find, in the further reading section at the end of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, a reference to King’s hefty tome. Echoes of it are apparent throughout The Passage, primarily in the rich detail, the sometimes startling shifts in perspective and narrative style and the myriad of protagonists.
As a reader I felt like I’d been taken on a similar journey as the one I experienced on first reading The Stand, from the dawning horror of the end as it unfolded before my eyes to the emotionally draining passage of time for characters so vividly created that their fates became more important than the story itself. I found myself racing through the final chapters of the book, both desperate and sorry to reach the end.
Like The Stand, The Passage depicts a United States ravaged by a virus; instead of bringing death, the virus turns its victims into vampire-like beings with almost no sense of memory or self. There are many similarities in the stories, but it is unfair to make too many comparisons. The Passage soon moves past any shadows of The Stand, Cronin creating a world entirely different to the typical King landscape, which often draws its horror from the familiar. One neat moment in The Passage sees a band of survivors seek refuge in a Las Vegas casino, the slot machines and card tables completely beyond their understanding, their confusion upon finding the Eiffel Tower outside of Europe particularly touching.
The story is split into parts, and initially suffers from a jarring leap in time, shifting from the creation and immediate aftermath of the virus to 80-odd years later, as we join an isolated colony of survivors, apparently unconnected to the protagonists we left behind. One of the triumphs of Cronin’s story is that the reader realises along with the characters that everything happens for a reason, and everyone has a part they must play.
Any attempt to summarise the plot would be a disservice to it, contained as it is in upwards of a thousand pages (a pause here to salute the Amazon Kindle, negating the need to heave that one around!) It is a story that asks as many questions as it answers, ending with a genuinely breathtaking cliffhanger and a tantalising taste of more to follow. Roll on 2012, now known to me as The Year of ‘The Twelve’.