A review of
Shriek: An Afterword
by Jeff VanderMeer
It’s not clear what obsesses Jeff VanderMeer more, mushrooms or books. Both appear on almost every page of his new novel Shriek: An Afterword, in which disgraced historian Duncan Shriek seeks to uncover the mystery of a race of mushroom people with mysterious fungal plans, who lurk below the surface of the moss-covered city of Ambergris. VanderMeer’s previous novels are part of a fantasy sub-genre, often categorized as the New Weird. While Shriek certainly contains fantasy elements, it doesn’t fit into any strictly delineated genre. There are more ideas here than flights of fancy; VanderMeer owes more to Borges than Tolkien.
VanderMeer conjures a neo-Victorian city which is as much a character as anyone in the novel. It provides a perfectly decadent setting for its melancholic inhabitants, who are made more real, and sadder, by the impossible strangeness of their home. Duncan’s art-dealing sister, Janice, narrates the epic story of her brother’s quest. Together, they negotiate doomed love affairs, drug addiction, lust, suicide, war, and the writing and publishing of books. Her voice is formal, but it throbs with gloom and mustiness. The stiff prose only makes the appearance of so much fecundity unsettling.
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