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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

"Veniss Underground" by Jeff Vandermeer

This novel seems to be a cross between Dante's Inferno and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in a 28(?)th century city with at least 10 levels underground and skyscrapers at least 67 storeys high. The city has become divided into zones, each patrolled by 'police for hire', lawlessness and chaotic free enterprise rule. Bioengineering has resulted in a variety of deformed life forms. In particular Quin has provided the city with Ganeshas as security police) and meerkats (with hands and language) who act as servants and bodyguards (and assassins).

Nicholas is a holo-artist whose creations have been burgled; he seeks a meerkat so he goes to Quin and offers to work for him in exchange (selling his soul to the devil?). He disappears. His vat-twin Nicola searches for him and is provided with a rather sinister servant meerkat. When she too disappears Shadrach, who was born underground but allowed to come up top as a result of winning a lottery, who used to be Nicola's lover but now works for Quin, goes to seek her and bring her back.

He therefore descends into the underworld. I recognise glimpses of other afterlifes in literature. For example, from the Odyssey(?): "A thousand lost souls populated the land along the shore, condemned to wander until death." (3.7). I wondered to what extent there were echoes of the Gilgamesh story too.

This is the sort of science fiction novel in which the world-building is important and Vandermeer builds a convincing world of anarchy and nightmare described in passages of free-wheeling description which teeters on the edge of the baroque without ever tumbling into purple prose. Vandermeer himself describes it as an "unabashedly, decadent, phantasmagorical novel." Indeed, unabashed if not self-indulgent. There was a great deal of invention but in the end I didn't really care which of the warped creations survived and which failed.

Some of my favourite moments:

  • "I'd be bored - and not even to death, unhappily, just to near death." (2.1)
  • "On his way to hell, Shadrach stopped at his apartment." (3.1)
  • "His father: a silent giant of a man who caved in on himself over the years until it seemed the flames had devoured him, a sad husk who had done the best he could for his family. His mother skipped from job to job with a flexibility and ease that was frivolous next to his father's stoic centredness." (3.2)

I have read a number of this type of novel. Others might include:

I suppose that for me these books sink or swim firstly by the strength of their characters and secondly by their ability to convince me that their fantasy worlds convey to me a message about the real world, in other words to what extent they succeed as an allegory.

February 2020; 248 pages

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