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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Arcadia (1992) by Jim Crace

Book Review
Arcadia (1992)
 by Jim Crace

      If you want to check the current relevance of a particular novel in American culture, check the Wikipedia entry.  If it doesn't have a page, that's a 0.  If it has a page that shows copious annotations over time, that is a ten.  Arcadia, without a Wikipedia page, scores a zero on the Wikipedia test.  Crace is an English author who hasn't quite made it to the point where American audiences pay attention.   I'm not particularly surprised, but I quite enjoyed Arcadia, which I can say of many of the selected works from the early 1990's that made their way onto the 1001 Books list.  This was a weak time for literature, and the taint of the high profile "artsy" movie version of many of these books makes me questions whether the title has been selected for literary merit or because the movie just makes the book too popular to ignore.

   Crace starts with a fairly straight forward Horatio Alger tale about Victor, a street urchin turned millionaire, living in an unnamed city that resembles London or New York, contemplating his existence as he turns 80.  He is assisted in his endeavors, which include dominating the supply chain and real estate of the Salt Market, by Rook, a grocer-labor activist turned fixer.   Rook has taken to feathering his nest with cash bribes from vendors which he calls, "pitch fees."

  Crace moves backwards and forwards in time, telling the story of Victor's unusual childhood, while focusing mostly on Rook as he prepares for Victor's 80th birthday party.  Events are set into action when Rook is exposed as a bribe taker and terminated from his position.  Immediately after, Victor decides to replace the market with "Arcadia" which is familiar to many in the guise of what we might call a "food hall."

   We are kept well apprised of the economic and political ramifications of the decision, and the action unfolds against the familiar backdrop of urban real estate development.

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