the Little Red Reviewer

book full of discomfort = comfort read? Somehow Yes.

Posted on: October 25, 2020

I needed a comfort read.

After 4 days of trudging thru the world’s most boring political thriller and finally DNFing it, I needed a comfort read. Something I knew I was going to like, something distracting and escapist, ideally something I’d read before and maybe forgotten the ending of.

So I picked up Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer, which I read  a few years ago, and loved.

My strong memories from the first time I read Borne were:

Rachel sleeps with her shoes on. I understand why, but that sucks.

Borne has major sensory overload (i think?). I get that.

I remembered some stuff that Rachel had a boyfriend, I remembered it was a post apocalyptic story where everyone is near starving, I remembered the “villain” was a flying psycho-bear.  I remembered thinking Vandermeer seems to have a thing for bears. And a thing for tidal pools.

Borne is a book about, among other things, living with discomfort.  When you’re just trying to survive another week, comfort is at the bottom of your priority list. In this burned out,  half blown up, shell of a post-apocalyptic city, everyone scavenges anything they can find.  Bugs and lizards are dinner, because that’s all there is. You’ll trade anything for the medications that keep you alive. Finding a new set of clothing is easy, there’s usually someone recently dead in the road who doesn’t need theirs anymore.  Rachel is so desperate for good scavenge, that she’s willing to climb on a sleeping bear.

No one in this book is comfortable.  No one knows how long they’ll be safe. Or loved. Or accepted. Or tolerated.

So why the hell would I read this as a comfort book?

Your guess is as good as mine, but I read it, zipped through it, couldn’t put it down.  Borne himself is just as amazing and glorious and curious and weird and alien as he was last time I saw him.  He’s naive, but not.  Rachel needs someone she can love, and Borne realizes he doesn’t want to disappoint her, he doesn’t want her to regret loving him.

And damn did I forget the ending to this book!  It’s going along nicely,  Rachel trying to balance raising Borne and trying to figure out what the hell he is, while at the same time keeping her boyfriend Wick at bay.  Wick and Borne, um, they don’t really get along, and only Wick knows why.

The letter Wick writes to Rachel at the end, holy crap.

The wall that Rachel sees in the building, near the end. Holy crap.

The things (that are hopefully dead), that are falling out of the boxes, in that room, holy crap.

What Borne means when he says “Rachel, I can’t stop”.  And Rachel lying to herself, that she doesn’t understand what he’s talking about.  And Wick, who can’t bring himself to tell Rachel anything about his past, for fear he’ll be found unworthy of her love.

The first time I read this, I obsessed over Borne’s apartment and his dead astronauts and his constant sensory overload.  Or at least, what I interpreted as his sensory overload.

This time, i knew the dead astronauts were there, so I could let them be.

I already sort of knew what he was (although I didn’t remember the extent of what he was doing), so I could let that be.

This time, I fell into the environment, the quiet of the place,  the woosh of Mord the psycho bear flying overhead and screaming in the distance, the scrabble sound of mutated and mutilated survivors digging through a trash heap, the sound of a birds wings, the rush of the poison river.

That city must be a very quiet place. No loud cars, no trains, no beep-beep-beep of a truck backing up, no phone alarms. No sound of civilization, because civilization ended when the Company gave up trying to control Mord.  the city must be so quiet that you can hear yourself think.

I think I’m going to read the end again.  Next time I read this book, because I need a comfort read, I want to remember the end.  I want to remember Wick’s letter, I want to remember what Rachel learned. I don’t need to remember the dead astronauts.

Maybe it’s the quiet of the place, maybe it’s Rachel’s flashbacks and her interest in tidepools, maybe it’s how she refers to herself as a ghost, maybe it’s because I saw the movie of Annihilation right before reading Borne the first time, but I can’t not connect this book with The Southern Reach.

And that scene at the end of Borne, with Rachel in the room, and the wall, and the boxes that are overturned, and Rachel in that room finally able to put all the pieces together,  and what’s on the other side of that wall. . .  all I could think of was that famous scene at the end of the Annailiation movie, that scene with those four musical notes.  That was the music I heard in my heard, when Rachel is in that room, with that wall, and those overturned boxes.  Like Lena the biologist in the Annihilation movie, Rachel the scavenger is facing something her brain can’t comprehend.

Anyway, it sure is strange to read a book where everyone is uncomfortable literally all the time, and have it be a comfort read. Maybe Rachel’s “new normal” is so much more awful than my new normal of 2020, that seeing her life makes me thankful that I have a grocery store at all, to go to.  Maybe reading about a super quiet city was soothing (oh, it definitely was), since I’ve been having bouts of zoom-meeting-induced sensory overload lately.

And yes, I know Vandermeer has a book out called Dead Astronauts. No, I haven’t read it yet.  I tend to be a year or two behind on his books, and I’m waiting for a paperback version that doesn’t have that hypercolor cover art.  I need six pairs of sunglasses to look at that cover art. Oh, hi sensory overload, how are you today?   You know I’ll read Dead Astronauts eventually. I should probably read The Strange Bird too.

16 Responses to "book full of discomfort = comfort read? Somehow Yes."

intrigued . thanks for bringing it to my attention . much love ^^

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thank you for visiting and commenting! 🙂

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I haven’t read Borne yet. I have read the Southern Reach books (I’m behind on posting about them actually, but I’ll do it when I feel like it), and I love them. I think what I really love is the way VanderMeer writes – there’s something I can’t put my finger on that happens when I read his books that pushes all the right buttons … like he writes exactly how I like to read … if that makes sense.
Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to reading Borne.



” there’s something I can’t put my finger on that happens when I read his books that pushes all the right buttons … like he writes exactly how I like to read … if that makes sense.”

oh yes, that makes perfect sense to me, and I feel the same way!! i love how he does atmosphere, and how he describes things. It feels like there is tons of description, tons of stuff, but it never feels info-dumpy, it feels organic, like i’m actually visually seeing what he’s describing, instead of having it described to me. um, or something?

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crap! i hope I didn’t spoil Borne for you!!

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Yes! “It feels organic” – like he’s got a direct feed to your brain. 😄

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I wish you would read Dead Astronauts because it was a DNF for me and made me so sad, because Borne is one of my all time favorite books😭


Did you read The Strange Bird? that is also in the Borne-verse.

yeah, Dead Astronauts got really, really mixed reviews. it seems like it related short stories / vignettes?? for me to read it, it needs to be in paperback, and with cover art that isn’t going to give me a visual panic attack.


I haven’t read Strange Bird but I do have it. I keep forgetting its in the back of my Borne edition.

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Whatever works!

Wishing you a great reading week


wishing you a wonderful week as well! 🙂


Your review made me want to re-read Borne, it’s such an amazing book. And I can see why it would be comforting even if the events of the book are not. The writing is beautiful, it is very slow-paced and at the heart of it, it’s a story about love.

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you are so right, and i hadn’t realized it until now – it IS a story about love! and family!

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Cool write-up on author Jeff VanderMeer. I wondered about your premise so you made me curious– I put Borne on my list of books for November and started an order. Then Annihilation was offered to me (not literally) as a reply to my query on contemporary dark fiction.

Too much of the same kind of book? I read fast, like more than two books in a month.


I think they are different enough to read in the same month, or even back to back. Both books have fantastic atmosphere, and new-weird elements.
Borne – one of VanderMeer’s more accessible stories, this is a slow-ish paced, character driven, post apocalyptic novel focusing on love, family, clutching things close, and loss.
Annihilation – very surreal, very “new-weird”, not as accessible as Borne. LOTS of tension, lots of ambiguity, some fever-dream style scenes. Even if things don’t make sense, keep reading! Annihilation is first in a trilogy, but can be read as a stand alone. there is a very well done movie version, but it is very different from the book.

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Thanks! I’m always looking for a challenging genre read. I appreciate your angle on these two titles.

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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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