the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘Ambergris

Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer

Published in 2009

Where I got it: purchased new

why I read it:  have enjoyed previous Vandermeer books

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John Finch hates his job.  Hates watching his beautiful city of Ambergris crumble, destroyed, looted, rebuilt into something it shouldn’t be.  He hates his “detective work”, informing on his friends and neighbors to his grey cap boss whose smile is all teeth, the Partials who follow him everywhere, recording everything he says and does with their fungally recording eyes. Hates what a fungal parasite is slowly but irrevocably doing to his best friend Wyte, the only man who knows all of Finch’s secrets. Hates how he always falls back to playing both sides, in hopes he can keep his friends and loved ones alive.

But most of all, Finch hates that there is no escape. Not from Ambergris, not from the grey caps, and not from who and what he is.

His latest cast, a double murder, defies description.  Found in a nondescript apartment: One dead adult human male, one very dead grey cap of undetermined sex or age (if such a thing can ever be determined), amputated at the waist.  Grey caps are pretty hard to kill, maybe he should take notes.  The memory bulbs of the dead are useless, offering only hallucinations and impossible places.  Through his network of spies and snitches, Finch learns who the dead man was. Someone impossible.  Someone who couldn’t have been there because he’s been dead for a hundred years.

Finch and Wyte investigate and learn the mystery is about much more than  just the dead man, it’s about what the dead man can do.  Wyte is dying, has exacted a promise from Finch to help him, when the time comes. Wyte can’t fight the thing inside him much longer, and they both know he won’t go quietly.

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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 Finch.

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At least in the version I got a hold of, the oddness began right from the start. The two covers of the book were a story unto themselves, describing a visitor to Vandermeer’s port city of Ambergris. This visitor falls out of the ferry, and is clutching a copy of Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen to his chest. Stranger yet, the inside cover speaks of Mr. Vandermeer’s untimely disappearance, and the strange notes he left in his wake. Turn a few pages, and under the “Also written by” list, many non existent tomes appear. This isn’t false advertising, it’s foreplay.

Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, a.k.a. The Book of Ambergris is exactly that: a collection of short stories in and about the port city of Ambergris (and yes, you find out how the city managed to get such a beautiful name that means something so disgusting. Look it up), her history, her religions, her politics, with minor cameos by Janice and Duncan Shriek, of Vandermeer’s Shriek: An Afterword.

Reading this book is like being in a haunted house, populated by the friendly ghosts of all the relatives you wish you could have met, but you can’t understand what they are saying. It’s like being in the Sistine chapel, and although it’s emtpy and abandonded, but you can still the chanting if you don’t try to listen to hard. No matter how much time I spend with this book, I don’t know if I’ll ever learn all the secrets of Ambergris.

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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. Read the rest of this entry »


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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.