Sunday, September 04, 2005

SHRIEK by Jeff Vandermeer

Over the last few days I have had the privilege of reading the manuscript of SHRIEK: AN AFTERWORD by Jeff Vandermeer. In fact I have done very little else. It is an unsettling, moving and thrilling book - dryly funny on one page and beautiful on the next. One Janice Shriek - an erstwhile artist's agent and gallery owner and sister of Duncan - has written a memoir. This has subsequently been found by her brother and it is the interaction of the siblings - through his annotation of her memoir - that forms the book. It is an unusual and highly effective form and I enjoyed it immensely.

Jeff Vandermeer has invented a city called Ambergris which is infected with a colony of fungal creatures called Gray Caps. The effect of this species on the city mirrors much in our own civilisation and Vandermeer uses them as effective analogy to pursue themes such as underclass, colonialism, and the belief and dogged pursuit of ideals. Vandermeer has invented religion, culture, history, wars and politics for his world (which has already been described in his anthology of short stories CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN(US)/(UK)). It has an appealing strangeness which adds to the pleasure derived from establishing connections and allegories.

The last part of the book was particularly moving at the moment because it deals with the destruction of a city. The descriptions are so fine and involving it was difficult to surface - and when I did it was to read accounts of the destruction of New Orleans on blogs and on news accounts. For a short time I found myself in a strange surreal world - both real and unreal at the same time.


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