Celice and Joseph, a fifty plus couple, are the “dead” of the title. We witness their deaths and watch as they lay undiscovered for a few days, while being told their story. The omniscient voice here has the same kind of chilly detachment I equate with some other male literary “names.” (McEwan for one.)
There are beautiful descriptions throughout with Crace employing a scientific eye to zoom in on the decomposing bodies, and smoothly taking us to the past to watch the developing relationship between Celice and Joseph.
“She could reach high corner cobwebs with a dusting stick and spin grey candyfloss.”
“…his hand on hers, their faces rhyming…”
and many more such descriptions are evocative and vivid. The forensic detailing of decaying corpses is suitably gross. However the marriage of Celice and Joseph doesn’t convince any more than the other aspects of their lives. They are in their fifties but seem much older. Even in youth Joseph was dull but Celice was not, I don’t think. When Syl, their daughter, is introduced I hoped she would inject some energy into the novel but alas, she is just another female described in such a way that we understand that although she, like her mother before her, has desires, her sexual encounters are joyless. She has “use” of a man. Crace’s men want sex and are stupid because of it, his women want sex with men sometimes but are mostly reluctant, desperate (Celice), or do so to gain something, (a lift in Syl’s case). All the characters seem so dry and it is hard to care for people described so coldly, even when they are dead.
Despite the murders, the tragic death in their past, and the search for them by Syl, there seems precious little story. There’s no hope in the end, no resolution. They are dead, Syl lives on. Blah blah blah. I like the idea of examining a life backwards and forwards by focussing on a few key events but although Crace clearly writes well these people never came alive for me and I remained utterly unmoved throughout.