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Shriek: An Afterword

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2006

    For hardcore Amergris fans

    I¿ve read and greatly enjoyed all Vandermeer¿s previous books, and so was eagerly looking forward to Shriek. However, I spent about half my time reading it feeling that something was seriously wrong with it, and trying to figure out exactly what. The conceit of the novel is that once-celebrity-but-now-failed art gallery owner Janice Shriek has written a memoir, which was later copiously annotated with his own additions and alternative views by her brother, the talented but failed historian and author Duncan Shriek. The third major character is Mary Sabon, a talented and highly successful historian-author, and former lover of Duncan¿s, who following their breakup has devoted her career to refuting Duncan¿s discoveries and theories about the gray-caps (or mushroom people) of Ambergris, the subject he has obsessively researched for most of his life. (Mary is not one of the narrators, but both of them refer to her constantly, Janice with loathing and Duncan with longing.) One weakness of Shriek is that although the book contains much colorful imagery¿particularly the second half of it¿Ambergris is not a fully-thought-out fantasy world. It¿s got an entire realm of sinister mushroom people living underneath it. It has continuous covert feuding between the two most powerful businesses of Ambergris, which at times erupts into violent confrontation. But otherwise its culture seems much like that of any modern US city. Judging by the appearance and business operations of Janice¿s gallery, it could be any gallery devoted to modern art. The university where Duncan teaches for a time could be any modern Catholic university. The editorial office of the publishing house that has published some of Duncan¿s books could (except for the substitution of typewriters for computers) be any editorial office a modern reader might wander into. Ambergris is also not a fully-thought-out social culture. The personalities of Janice, Duncan, Mary, and the minor characters seem ordinary and familiar. A few have exotic physical characteristics, but aside from that, readers would not be surprised to meet any of them (even the maladjusted and depressive Janice and Duncan). The dark references to fortified buildings, ¿bad Festivals,¿ and dangers walking the streets after dark, could easily be transposed to any inner city in the US. The third weakness of Shriek is that it is a long novel with little plot. It tries to create a feeling of suspense, but this generally does not succeed well. Its nature as a ¿memoir,¿ where the narrators themselves cannot be surprised by events that have already happened to them, inherently works against suspense. Janice and Duncan are also both obsessives, who repeatedly refer to the same events to figure out why they happened. Janice, in particular, casts the memoir as an attempt to explain why, at a recent party, she walked down a flight of stairs to exchange catty remarks with Mary Sabon and slap her in the face. For a while Janice begins every chapter by referring to this incident. But this is not a good ¿mystery¿ to hang the novel on, since the reader quickly discovers that the two women have loathed and fought with each other ever since they met. Duncan¿s annotations make for even more repetition, over-dissection, and wordiness. Part 1 of the novel would have been considerably improved by significant deletion and condensation. Part 2 of the novel picks up. First there¿s more action (a war and job changes for Janice and Duncan). The war is accompanied by a good deal more of the baroque imagery that tends to ¿carry¿ Vandermeer¿s works, with bombs and mines operating in much the usual way (though, come to think of it, with no mention of aircraft delivering the bombs) but with a weirdly different appearance. There¿s a ghastly night at a hastily organized opera, complete with handbill. And the imagery makes the weaknesses of plot, character, and world-building more forgivable it is the author¿s primary

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2010

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