so it was that last night, after i turned the last page of chapter 5 of Shriek: An Afterword, i put the book aside thinking i’d only be giving my eyes a moment’s rest (taking my cue from Janice’s own decision to stop typing for a while), that i would continue my strange journey through Ambergris that very night… and sleep promptly fell upon me and swept my wakefulness away like some raptor swooping down, having been perched upon my bedrail all that time, in wait for that vulnerable moment when...
for an indeterminate period of time, i was (and here i resort to cliché because, after all, being a cliché doesn’t keep something from being true) dead to the world; for though my days float placidly upon the river Lethe, nights are sheer Oblivion.
and then the nightmare came, the most vivid and complex nightmare i’ve had in a while.
the details of that nightmare have, perhaps, no place here, having, at least superficially, nothing to do with what i imagine was their source. and the source i imagine is this: Jeff VanderMeer’s Shriek: An Afterword.
it isn’t that the last two chapters i read (4 and 5, respectively) were in any particular way horrific; in fact, after a pithy summary of Ambergris’ bizarre yet familiar (or bizarrely familiar) history, Janice goes on to describe a relatively mundane version of Ambergris that is most reminiscent for me of the decadence of Oscar Wilde, or of the satirical end-times of Michael Moorcock’s An Alien Heat (though my reading of the latter is as yet, admittedly, incomplete, my last attempt having been waylaid by the arrival of the very book i now find myself immersed in), apart from which these chapters contain nothing more frightening than going off into the woods and finding your way home, a description of Duncan’s scholarly dealings at Blythe (in the midst of which Duncan makes his lengthiest interruption of Janice’s text thus far), and the relatively placid, if at times argumentative ‘conversations in the park’ that her brother Duncan used to have with the (ex-) Truffidian Antechamber Bonmot.
and yet, for all their revelations in these last two chapters, the siblings still seemed to be tiptoeing about what i’ve begun to imagine as the core of the book…and we come at last to the main point of this particular entry, which we’ll get back to after one more brief digression.
despite my affinity for all things dark, dreary, disturbing and otherwise, er, creepy, i don’t read as much horror fiction as you might imagine. the reason for this is simple: most of those books do not achieve in me the desired effect. to put it bluntly, they don’t scare me.
but something about Jeff VanderMeer’s writing, particularly in this book, does. not in the way that might prevent one from getting up to go to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night, but in a way that’s subtler, more insidious.
for all its efficiency (note: not economy; his writing may not be as florid as that of some other writers i can think of, but neither does it strike one as being wholly succinct or strictly pragmatic), Mr VanderMeer’s prose exudes a strange, indescribable menace, even in the relatively enlightening or even cheery moments of the narrative, such as those that tell us that, yes, love does exist in this bizarrely (subtly) skewed world (yes, the siblings Janice and Duncan do love each other in the complicated way siblings do, and they love other people and other people love them, as displayed in these chapters).
maybe it’s just me; maybe it isn’t something other readers will find in these pages; still, that subtle menace is an utter delight, and i look forward to returning to Ambergris as soon as it’s dark.