Since announcing his retirement in 2013, Jim Crace has had more comebacks than Kanye West, something for which we should all be thankful. Craceland is a compelling place to visit, full of hazy yet broadly recognisable locations (Tudoresque England in the IMPAC award winning Harvest; a vaguely Mediterranean town in Melody) and spanning indeterminate times (the post-apocalyptic future in The Pesthouse; the end of the Stone Age in The Gift of Stones). The specific non-specificity of his fiction reflects Crace’s view of himself as more of a storyteller than a novelist, and his sense of history as a largely unwritten – and therefore often forgotten – phenomenon.
In this, eden is typical Cracian fare. The book is set in paradise, or something like it, years after Adam and Eve’s fall. The apple trees are still there, now tended by 50 or so gardeners, as well as a nuttery, stock ponds and fields. There are also angels, human-sized and covered in blue feathers, who must look a bit like Big Bird from Sesame Street.
Life in eden doesn’t sound very paradisal. The gardeners are obliged to fast regularly and mustn’t pick fruit from the trees – instead they should let it fall ‘in the lord’s good time’, like frustrated fruitarians. God, if he even exists, communicates his whims via the angels and their ‘go-between’, a bitter, self-loathing gardener named Alum. The lord is also a bit of a micromanager, with ‘a bell for everything, from quarters to alarms, and somebody to ring it’.
This makes it easier to understand why the gardeners might be envious of those who live beyond the wall. Though they age and die, these mortals are also able to love and have children.