Jeff Vandermeer — Shriek: An Afterword [Weird Fiction]
“A theory that calls for the historian to internalize portion of history as part of his or her life; or, more specifically, to map historical events to personal events.”
Shriek: An Afterword tells the scandalous, heartbreaking, and horrifying secret history of two squabbling siblings, and a war between rival publishing houses that will change the ancient, storied city of Ambergris forever.
“This second volume of the Ambergris trilogy is narrated with flamboyant intensity and under increasingly urgent conditions by the ex-socialite Janice Shriek, who tells us of the adventures of her brother, Duncan, a historian obsessed with a doomed love affair and a secret that may kill or transform him.
For fans both new and old of Jeff VanderMeer, the Ambergris novels are essential reading. Welcome to Ambergris. We can’t promise you’ll leave untransformed.” — Book review courtesy of MDC Picador.
Again, Jeff Vandermeer conjures the pale city of Ambergris, rich with less than clean history and threatening underground dwellers that are often just little more than the boogeymen for the town’s inhabitants. We get to know what these mysterious men and their fungi are capable of and what can happen to those who dwell inside their underground lairs. The book itself tries to encapsulate this feeling of over-the-top weirdness. Still, it fails to do so at many moments throughout the story, where the vigour to create atmospherically induced horror fails to shine through.
Quite a few chapters are the writings of a woman going back through her own drug/alcohol/party-fueled history and, as such, is prone to forgetting what was going on around her. There is soberness to her outlook once her fall has taken place.
As I quoted before, history rewrites personal events, just as private events can rewrite the written record. The same can be said the same for the family Shriek. Janice is a biased onlooker of her brother’s life, and with such, history becomes convoluted as much as any other historian would address it. The family Shriek unwinds throughout life. Duncan becomes obsessed and fascinated by the alien underground race, the Gray Caps.
Duncan and Janice are quite enticing characters. While the one goes for an entire outward appearance, pleasing the senses, conjuring a new art form, and then falling from the top of the artistic world, the other goes deep underground and becomes (unwillingly) enriched in both body and mind. The other becomes famous and infamous in the art circles rallying to a bright flame and eventually burning herself out.
Janice is the main narrator of this story, and I should describe Duncan as the naughty little brother who reads, remarks, and even edits portions of his sister’s musings and writings.
In terms of Duncan’s transformation, the word vague comes to mind in a positive sense. Vandermeer does his best to let the reader fantasize about what grotesque forms Duncan’s change takes, as he is rarely seen in his transformative state by any others. The play of seeing Duncan’s shadow snap back in one occurrence extensively plays into that.
The “Flesh Necklace” described actively throughout the novel is an excellent addition the first few times he writes it. It certainly conjures a horrific image for something so banal. However, the name itself is so commonly used it quickly becomes a nuisance to read, as the novel frequently goes back from the narration to the actual time and space where she encounters said “Flesh Necklace”.
Lastly, Ambergris itself, the writer takes great pride in his conjured city and seeks to fill every nook and canny to the brim. This finds itself to backfire at moments, making the idea rise that he went far and beyond to find ideas to make this town as weird as it could be. Other towns talked about revel in normalcy and are hardly fleshed out.
In conclusion: Jeff Vandermeer brought about another masterpiece in terms of worldbuilding and took the time to flesh out the dangerous and luring city of Ambergris. While Duncan and Janice are worlds apart, they remain brother and sister and never let each other fall. While the book is a bit too long to keep the two characters fresh, I would still recommend it for those interested in the town of Ambergris.
I give it 3.5/5 stars.
As always, if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading my article! I am a beginning writer and reviewer. If you have any (constructive) criticism, you can always help me by pointing out my errors.
If you liked my review, you can always buy me a coffee.