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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Ambergris Week - Part 2: Shriek: An Afterword


The weird dreams continued, and the man did the only thing he could under such circumstances, the only logical thing: he kept on writing them.

In his masterpiece Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil states that one should live life as if it were a novel and as if we were all were characters (in fact, the core of that idea is first proposed by Shakespeare in As You Like It, where the Bard writes that "all the world´s a stage/And all the men and women merely players".)

So is the case with the second installment of the weird oneirorabilia collected by Jeff VanderMeer in his dreamtravels, and put to words in 2006, four years after City of Saints and Madmen. Shriek: An Afterword is a testament of sorts written by art critic Janice Shriek to his brother, the disappeared historian Duncan Shriek: characters {?} living as real people living by Musil´s standards as if they were indeed characters in a novel.

This longest of afterwords, though, is already something twisted, since Janice herself seems to have vanished before its publication, and a returned Duncan copyedits the original text, not cutting anything, but adding his comment in brackets. So we have an inversion here, a kind of addendum to an afterword. (Or "famous last afterwords"?)

During a party attended by the famous Mary Sabon, Duncan´s former lover, Janice takes refuge at her room and starts writing what will become a kind of biography of her, his infamous brother, and ultimately of a dark period in the history of Ambergris, the Silence - when, in the course of one night, all 25,000 inhabitants of the city were killed by the gray caps, the mysterious dwellers of the underworld. Or were they? The Silence becomes one of the obsessions in the life of Duncan Shriek - obsessions that will transform him deeply, not only in soul, but also in body.

The stream of consciousness narrative technique, just slightly interrupted by Duncan´s brackets {but not very much}, takes the reader through an wild, bumpy ride - being at times also a {very} bad trip, turned more weird due to the wide spectrum of literary references the occasional seeker can find inside its pages: for instance, the terrible diatribe of the editor L. Gaudy to Duncan is slightly reminiscent of Harlan Ellison´s in I have no mouth and I must scream. The vision of the gargantuan machine in the underground bears comparison only to the contraption devised by Samuel Beckett in his novella The Lost Ones.

{Now, to compare authors is something of a cowardice - but you must also remember that some reviews beg a metalinguistical approach, in which the reviewer, though cannot in any given moment try to best the author whose work he/she is reviewing, becomes sort of infected by his/her style, language- such is the case here. That is the foremost (though not the only one) reason of the use of comparison in this review.}

Duncan´s addiction and his fate, even though we know {do we?} we´re not going to see it to its end, attracts us as moths to a flame - and we allow the story to do that to us, for we want to. We don´t want the fungal embraces that took over Duncan´s body in the gray caps´s sinister underworld, but we shiver in anticipation anyway - maybe just because we will never be touched by its spores; maybe a little saddened because this is not the case nor it will ever be. All we have to guide us is words, and they will have to suffice. {At least for now, that is.}

You will also notice that this week will extend into the other one -- it is only fitting, for the Calabrian Calendar used in Ambergris is by no standards akin to ours.


(This review was first posted in Post-Weird Thoughts)

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