Disclaimer: The rating for this book is based on the first four stories:
"Dradin, In Love"
"An Early History of Ambergris"
"The Transformation of Martin Lake" and
"The Strange Case of X" ; all of which appear in the first edition of the book.
Following are my impressions as I read the stories:
"Dradin, In Love
I'm intrigued as to where the city is set, or shall I say, which real-world location it is based on.
Initially, I thought the Amazon jungle, but now, after mention of an Occidental woman and an old man defecating in the street, I'm starting to think India. (Perhaps Bombay/Mumbai?) It could also be in the Fidji islands where VanderMeer spent his childhood. Possibly and probably all of them and at the same time, none of them?
Phew, what a harrowing story. The author leaves you wondering about quite a few issues; but this is exactly the kind of literature that I love - I love being left with material that I turn around in my mind, looking at it first from this angle, then from that, without it ever completely yielding all of it's mysteries.
"An Early History of Ambergris
was reminiscent to me of a fabulous postmodern allusion to the conquest of Tenochtitlan by Cortez.
It is written in the form of excerpts from dairies and history books, complete with "clashes of opinion by historians" to add to the fun. Also, the mushroom plot deepens.
"The Transformation of Martin Lake
These stories are weird.. (well, they are
They all start off pretty bland and unexciting, and then suddenly, the atmosphere totally changes - especially the Dradin and the Lake stories so far. Suddenly they become surreal and in the case of the above-mentioned story, it's a breathless, totally out there mixture of horror and weirdness.
In fact, it becomes decidedly creepy.
The story ends up being a reflection, like The Strange Case of X, on aspects of what it means to be a creative artist; in this case it deals mainly with creative jealousy amongst artists, and also with how an artists' most profound work often springs from a well of deep darkness, - often of despair, in the artists life.
I was reminded quite profoundly of Mozart. I'm not fond of Mozart's 'lighter' earlier works.
Pretty as a picture as they may be, there is for me, no soul, no real depth in them. ..but then we get to his Requiem, and I actually get goose bumps just thinking of it.
Drinking deeply from the cup of loss, and grappling with the face of death, transformed Mozart, as far as I am concerned, into a man who could produce the profound experience that his Requiem is.
And so it was for Martin Lake.
"The Strange Case of X
Hahaha. The Strange Case of X has a brilliant twist! Well done, Mr Vandermeer. You have my sympathy...
Some excellent pieces of meta-fiction here.
VanderMeer does give a whole lot of subtle clues that tickles at the back of your brain, but that you don't always quite follow through with, until you get to the reveal. There you get an 'aha' Eureka! experience quite similar to what you tend to get while reading Gene Wolfe.
With both Wolfe and Vandermeer, you often find yourself going; "Hmm, I thought this was odd, or that rang a bell, but I didn't quite see it at the time - I see now that the author was teasing me all along."
From the appendix: "If you should ever again visit our humble
outpost of insanity, ..." (a letter written from an insane asylum) LOL. I love VanderMeer's black sense of humor. XD
One thing is for certain- Jeff VanderMeer is a tease.
The rest of the stories not specifically mentioned in this review, tend to be written in a whimsical, playful tone, and serve to expand the world of Ambergris. A lot of them flesh out the setting that the earlier stories play out in.
Prepare to see squid and mushrooms in a completely new light. Once you've visited the world of Ambergris, squid and mushrooms will acquire a VanderMeerian flavor that you'll never quite manage to rid them of.