I suggested this book to one of the two book clubs I attend and, after describing the plot, was met with protestations of "too depressing," "just can't handle something so bleak," and the plaintive wail: "how can you suggest something so dark!" (and this group LOVED Fall on Your Knees.)
Well, contrary to the the opinions of my fellow book groupies, The Pesthouse, is not depressing, as a matter of fact, it's what I like to call a "triumph-of-the-human spirit" story and a very well crafted one at that. I was engaged from the first page in Crace's future, medieval America where anything metal is scavenged, people live in isolated communities, violence controls the roads, and the America we know today is the stuff of oral legend. Groups of travellers stream toward the sea and a promise of a better life in Europe (nice touch - the flow of immigrants reversed) Disease, marauding thieves and slavers pick off the hopeful pilgrims in a landscape littered with twisted remnants of the USA. Crace never tells us what happened to make the country an inhospitable cesspool of chemical horrors, but we don't really need to know.
Margaret and Franklin, two strangers thrown together by pestilence and disaster, begin the trek together and, along their journey through the unknown and the horribly unexpected, find their own dreams. Even in this setting, and the setting is the antagonist, people still have the will to laugh, to love and to hope. It is all very believable.
Recommended - food for thought