Justin Cronin’s The Passage is nothing if not ambitious.
Beginning in the near future, a research team in the jungles of Columbia make a startling medical discovery. The government sees great potential, and begins human trials, recruiting from among the inmates on death row. Special Agent Wolgast, assigned this job, draws the line when he is asked to pick up an orphan girl.
The experiment all goes horribly wrong, and the book skips a hundred years into the future where a small colony of survivors struggle to make lives for themselves, battling the virals that have taken over what they know of the world outside.
Its easy to dismiss yet another post-apocalyptic novel, but there are equal parts of the sublime and ridiculous here. Certainly Cronin has created a well-realised vision here. The world is clearly painted word-by-word on the page, deft and assured. The characters – with all their imperfections – are engaging and, well, human.
But this is just soooo long. It took me weeks to read, and what felt like a leviathan effort to finish. The attempt to cover such a long space of time is confusing at times, and in the first 100 – 200 pages jumps around so much that you wonder what you are reading and where it is all leading.
Aspects of the plot that result in characters believed dead being alive also served at times to irritate me. They occur too often to be effective.
And all this may occur again – it turns out The Passage is book one of a trilogy. This helps me to understand why so many things remain a mystery – some of which caused great irritation during my reading. Perhaps it would have been better if I had known this beforehand.
Although there are several oblique and fuzzy references to it during the novel, the meaning of the title itself is unclear. Best guess is that the passage represents the walkway between human and inhuman – clearly Amy is the passage, and this is not only what she does, but also what she is. You’ll need to read to understand! And I would suggest you read, I think you have to decide for yourself. And as much as this exhausted and frustrated me at times, I haven’t ruled out reading the next two.