the Little Red Reviewer

Shriek: An Afterword, by Jeff Vandermeer

Posted on: August 22, 2010

I’m slowly working my way up, chronologically, to Finch.

This was another one of those books that jumped off the bookshelf at me, screamed at me to read it, seduced me, allowed me to escape into it’s pages for an entire week, and then left me. I’m sure I’m not the only one to be seduced by Vandermeer’s Ambergris.

Shriek, An Afterword , is narrated by Janice Shriek, and is her attempt at a biography of her brother, Duncan Shriek. Janice feels it is her duty to truthfully chronicle her family, Duncan’s youth and education, his illicit affair with his student Mary Sabon, and the ups and downs of his and Janice’s careers, as their city is taken over from beneath. Duncan, on the other hand, feels it is his duty to edit and comment on Janice’s manuscript without her knowledge, so readers know what she got right, and what she guessed so wrongly on. His comments are priceless!

The metropolis of Ambergris is a cacophony of sights, smells, textures and sounds. Vandermeer very nearly buries his readers with sensory overload, but the weight is worth it. Vandermeer takes something as simple as a mushroom, and turns it into a sensual, dreamy creation.

The history of the founding of the city is quite brutal: incoming humans decided it would be a great place for a city, so they massacred the indigenous tribes of (possibly) sentient mushrooms, known as the “Grey Caps”. Shortly after the founding of the city, a party of scouts returned to find the populace of 25,000 had dissapeared, completely. Was it the revenge of the Grey Caps? No one knew, and no one wanted to know.

As Duncan uncovered more and more of a possible truth, he became more and more a laughing stock, a conspiracy theorist. He ventures underground into the lairs of the grey caps, and comes back changed, both mentally and physically, with no hope of recovery. As he is able to find a sense of peace and understanding in his discoveries, Janice and Mary experience it as a living nightmare. Janice turns to drug use, and Mary does everything in her power to destroy Duncan’s reputation as an academic. Duncan, always the professional historian, ceases to care what his peers think of him personally, so long as he is able to show them the truth.

At it’s core, this is a story of love and loss, of fear of the truth, of the truth setting you free. In ways, in parallels our current political situation – how much of the status quo is each person willing to believe? How much truth searching are we willing to do, and what price are we willing to pay?

An emotional, frightening, and painful ending, Shriek: an Afterword is one of those beautiful, dreamy novels you want to go back to over and over again, knowing every time you read it, you’ll find new flavors, new colors, new details you were too busy to notice the first time. I believe Vandermeer purposely wrote Janice’s flashbacks in non-chronological order for that reason; to maybe confuse or frustrate the reader, but the pull them back once they had the power of hindsight.

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4 Responses to "Shriek: An Afterword, by Jeff Vandermeer"

This sounds like a great book! Is it in paperback yet? =P

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this came out a couple years ago, so it should be in paperback by now.

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[…] I am slowly working my way up to Finch, really I am! If you’re new to Vandermeer, start with Shriek, An Afterword, then read City of Saints and Madmen, then you’ll be good and ready for […]

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[…] and vignettes offering a history of the city and it’s famous and infamous inhabitants) and Shriek: an Afterword (featuring a dysfunctional brother and sister).  I feel that Finch will make more sense if you […]

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