Chris's Reviews > Shriek: An Afterword

Shriek by Jeff VanderMeer
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Aug 27, 07

bookshelves: weird-fiction

A review on the back of this book name-checks Nick Cave and "Hitchhikers Guide" -- please ignore the back of the book. I can't imagine anything less like Douglas Adams than this book.

If I had to write a review of this book based primarily on name-checks, my list would include: Mervyn Peake, Edward Gorey, H.P. Lovecraft, China Mievelle, and Tom Waits. VanderMeer's Ambergris setting has echoes of Gormanghast's crumbling antiquity, but with more of Amphigories twisted, Gothic humor thrown in (think "The Insect God"). The entire wold is spun over a shadow background of an unknown, violent horror lurking beneath the surface of things (see: Cthulhu), and the Waits I have in mind is less "Romeo is Bleeding" than "The Earth Died Screaming" (I will admit that the Nick Cave reference is accurate if what the reviewer was thinking of was "The Carney").

I picked this up mainly because I absolutely LOVED City of Saints and Madmen and this is the only other VanderMeer I've found in my multi stops at B&N since finishing that book. It was good - as well conceived and developed as CoSaM - but something about the premise seemed to drag a bit when stretched over the length of an entire novel; perhaps had it been 50 to 75 pages shorter it would have carried the same punch-to-the-gut as its surreal predecessor. At first I was worried about the premise being too clever: the text proports to be an afterward to Ambergris historian Duncan Shriek's "History of Ambergris," written by his sister Janice Shriek, but discovered and edited with notes by Duncan himself. However, this conceit is very well executed, and the two voices play off one another very nicely without intruding too much into the text -- the result if very "Pale Fire," but successful to an extent that surprised me.

The reason I gave it three rather than four stars is simply that something about the book struck me as somewhat false, or distant, as if the book was part of an elaborate in-joke that VanderMeer only partially let the reader in on. I can't really explain it, as it was just a vague sense of unease or detachment that set in from time to time. Whole chapters would be utterly gripping, but then there would be some bizarre detail that left me cold, almost as if he was writing an allegory and I was missing the cultural basis to understand the elaborate symbolism, or that if I was one of his college buddies I'd get how he'd cast their least favorite professor as the head of a church. Think of the wonderful stories you've told a small child, working their friends and family and neighborhood into the narrative, and later you realize with a slight disappointment that no one other than that child would really appreciate the story. I felt like that from time to time (if this makes sense to anyone other than me).

Still, 90% of the book was great, and the restrained use of senseless and utter violence brings this books an edge of urgency and horror I've seldom experienced outside of Mieville. Well worth reading for those who like weird-fiction.
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message 1: by Mark (new)

Mark This was a great review, Chris, but I have to admit that many of your reference points were lost on ill-read me. The author's work sounds as if it's in the surreal, horror, fantasy, social ommentary kind of genres, but I'm just guessing. Anywhere close to right?


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