cover image Continent


Jim Crace. HarperCollins Publishers, $14.95 (138pp) ISBN 978-0-06-015724-1

Crace's continent is mainly dry and under-developed, peopled by bureaucrats and country folk whose conflicting values give these loosely connected chapters their essential tension. In ""Electricity,'' the wiring of a small village pits superstition and ancient innocence against technology and progress, leaving nothing much changed in the end. The nearly perfect ``In Heat,'' featuring a forest tribe whose women conceive at only one time of year, centers on the effect of their discovery by a biologist doing field workall told in the voice of his daughter, who late in her life learns a truth about her origin. A village scribe in ``Sins and Virtues'' withstands cultural exploitation, remaining true to himself and his art in the face of profit and greed. Crace's imagination is fabulous, conjuring landscapesurban and ruralthat are concrete, credible and mythic at once. It's a topography of the interior, where primitive magical explanations of phenomena are as adequate (and inadequate) as those of progress and technology. Distinguished by unfaltering authority and range of voice, Crace's novel has been awarded the Whitbread and the David Higham prizes in England. This is stunningly powerful, visionary writing. (April)