the Little Red Reviewer

A Not-A-Review of Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

Posted on: March 26, 2018

Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

published in 2017

where I got it: purchased new




I finally read Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne.  This book was on everyone’s Best of the Year list last year, so why did it take me so long to read it?  Uhm… i dunno. Took me a while to get out of The Southern Reach, I guess. Guess I needed the closure that was the incredible oversensoryoverload scene at the end of Annihilation more than I thought.  Anyway.


One of the nice things about read a book that had a lot of hype, a year after it came out, is that I can skip all the obligatory “what this book is about” crap, and get to the meat of what I wanna talk about in this not-a-review.


Seeing the Annihilation movie reminded me of how much I loved all the flashback scenes in the novel. I got to know the biologist through her flashbacks. Her character wasn’t only who she is right this second, while she is walking through Area X, but it’s all the things she did in her life that got her to be this particular person – the overgrown swimming pool, the tidepools, the isolated introvert-heaven projects, how she felt about herself and the world when she was outside. The biologist became who she is now, because of who she was then.


And that’s how I felt about Rachel.  The short flashbacks of her youth, of being a refugee, of how she wished her parents didn’t feel like they had to put on a happy face for her all the time, that is how I knew who she was. By who she was then, I had a better feeling for the depths of who she is now.  A well written flashback is a gem in a geode.


I’m a super tactile person.   I hate wearing shoes and i joke that when I walk around barefoot that I’m seeing the room with my feet. It’s only half a joke, because in a sense that isn’t seeing, I really am experiencing the texture of the floor through my feet, and that is being transmitting to my brain as a way of “seeing” the floor.   It’s a throwaway comment when Rachel mentions that she usually sleeps with her shoes on, that she hates taking her shoes off, something about an experience she had while she was a refugee.  When I read that, my gut reaction was “how sad, for her to be blind in that way”. I felt bad for her, that she wouldn’t be able to see a room through her feet.


Among other things that he might be, Borne is one gigantic sensory organ.  Once he starts talking and walking, and touching and tasting and “seeing the room through his feet”, he can’t stop. Well, he can’t stop doing those things just like he can’t stop doing some other things that he doesn’t like talking about.  Just like you can’t say to yourself “hmm, i’d like to shut off my sense of sight, or my sense of smell today”. You can’t stop either. But for you, not being able to flip a switch to stop seeing, or smelling, or tasting, is normal. So why would someone expect someone else to just be able to stop seeing the room through their feet?    Because we all want our kid to be fucking normal, that’s why.

When Borne gets his own room, and invites Rachel in, she is shocked by the plain-ness of the room. Hardly any decoration, hardly any knick-nacks, nothing the way a human would decorate a room. Ok, well, there is a decoration, but it isn’t anything a normal person would use to decorate a room (lol, define “normal”). She wonders how much sensory overload Borne experienced while he lived in her room. I read that scene on a day that was particularly sensory overload for me. I’d spent most of the day on the razor edge of “This isn’t that bad, I can handle this!” and “can the world please stop screaming for five minutes”.  it was an exhausting day, and Borne’s room felt like a perfect retreat.


It was strange, to relate more to Borne, to the alien creature, than to Rachel.  But I don’t want Rachel to feel bad. She was a good mom to Borne, she needs to stop beating herself up that she wasn’t attuned to what he was and what the world was to him.


Is any parent fully attuned to what their child needs? I mean, isn’t a toddler the most alien thing? You know what your child needs, you’re pretty sure you know what your child wants, but how many kids are good at articulating what they want or need? Shit, how many adults are any good at that?


Reading, I had no idea how the book was going to end.  I’ve read enough Vandermeer to know this wasn’t going to have a happy ending, or even perhaps anything in the sense of “end”.  I was sort of right. I was pleasantly surprised by how structured the ending was, that there was actually some sort of closure.  Wick’s letter just about killed me. I wonder how many times Rachel read the letter. Everything about Wick just about killed me. He does a such a sneaky good job of staying in the shadows, of making sure no one gets to know him. It’s like he’s not staying in the cliffs for protection, it’s like he’s staying there so that he can avoid other people as much as possible, and not for the antisocial reasons you’d think. And Rachel didn’t know him before, so she’s safe, right? (see? Wick is just as crappy as I am at articulating what he needs and or wants)


I hope Rachel can walk around barefoot one day. I hope she can find some enjoyment in walking around barefoot, that it doesn’t traumatize her, doesn’t turn into some “this is what Borne did” kind of moment.


So anyway,  read Borne. If you’ve read early Vandermeer, Borne is much more accessible, a more mainstream prose style. Lots of dialog.  Language that communicates the beauty of nature reclaiming a city, parallelled with characters knowing they are slowly dying of radiation poisoning or cancer.  And if you’ve never read Vandermeer? This is a great place to start. I promise this book isn’t as weird as I’ve made it sound. Well, it is weird, but an accessible, post apocalyptic, readable, oddly mainstream kind of weird.


I’ll probably read Borne again in a year or so.  I expect it to be a completely different book, now that I know the ending. I’m interested to see how Rachel and Wick will have changed, now that i know (or think I know) who they actually are.

9 Responses to "A Not-A-Review of Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer"

Hey you didn’t even mention Mord! I adored this book, and I love how you noticed different things than I did when I read it. And I too am a barefoot person. I absolutely hate wearing shoes and wouldn’t if I didn’t have to go out into the world.

Liked by 1 person

Mord! did you see him as more victim than villain?

I felt like Mord was like a reverse-Borne. Mord started out (or so we’re told) with all his human faculties, he could talk, he could be understood, he could communicate, he was seen as a person. And he slowly lost all of that. When Mord loses yet another thing, he became even more isolated. Mord loses things, Borne gains them. they balance each other, sort of?

Liked by 1 person

I really enjoyed this book, it was very odd but surprisingly easy to get along with. I’m probably more with Rachel – a shoes on type of person, I think it’s because I hate getting anything on my feet, it gives me the heebies, or dirty feet – don’t like that feeling either. But, then at the same time there’s an absolutely lovely and for me contradictory feeling of sinking your feet into grass or really thick carpet – I do love that feeling.
Lynn 😀
P.S – trust Vandermeer to write a book that has us talking about whether we prefer to be barefoot or not!

Liked by 1 person

well, when I read the Ambergris books, all i was talking about was if I could ever eat a mushroom again! and I do love mushrooms, and eat them whenever possible, so yeah, talked about it a lot.

Liked by 1 person

This book was totally not on my radar … like, at all. And now I really want to read it right away! You always make me think differently about reading and books – thank you for making me aware of this book! 🙂

Liked by 1 person

it was super hyped when it came out, then not too many people were talking about it. I must run in a circle of Vandermeer fans? Seems like a lot of people in my book-osphere were talking about it.

Liked by 2 people

I’ve flirted with the idea of reading this book a few times, but just can’t work up the gumption to do it. It sounds like an interesting read, though.

I get what you meant about sensory overload. Sometimes you just need it quiet in ways other than audible.

Liked by 1 person

maybe pick up the book if you see it at the library? that way you don’t feel committed to finishing it if you only get 20 pages in and decide it isn’t for you.

got any tips for describing sensory overload to people who don’t experience it?

Liked by 1 person

The sensitivity from the flu, but not just on your skin. Visually, aurally as well. Its all too much, to the point of being physically painful.

Liked by 2 people

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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