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4.7 out of 5 stars
City of Saints and Madmen
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on January 5, 2002
This book is a collection of four stories set in the city of Ambergris. Though there are tenuous links between the four, they are separate works and I will discuss them separately.
"The Early History of Ambergris" was the first of the four I read, though it is actually second in the book. It is an extremely funny account of the city's history, told through the persona of an imaginary historian. Despite the humor, it seems more real than one would expect, and I found myself forming opinions on the authenticity of imaginary documents. Now that I have read the acknowledgments, I find that the writing style is actually a real historian's. I must find out more about that guy.
"Dradin, In Love" is the first story, though I read it second. It is a Kafkaesque nightmare, starting out in mere confusion and spiralling downward into madness. Unfortunately, it doesn't contain anything really interesting; it's just a sequence of progressively more disturbing images, few of which are particualrly original or aesthetically interesting. Not that another review on this page gives away something extremely important about this story.
"The Transformation of Martin Lake" is much better. It chronicles a series of dramatic events in the life of an Ambergrisian artist. Though magnificent for what it tells, it is also infuriating (in a good way) for what it does not tell. It is also genuinely scary, more so than much so-called "horror" fiction. I would call this the best story here.
"The Strange Case of X" is the shortest story, and feels almost like an addendum. It is very interesting, as so many stories about madmen tend to be. VanderMeer's descriptive language is wonderfully hallucinatory. I regret that it was published here, however, as this caused me to assume from the start one of the story's crucial surprises.
Though the stories included here were very good, I was disappointed that the city of Ambergris itself did not figure more strongly into the book. Other reviewers here and elsewhere have said that the setting is incredible, but it didn't come alive for me in the same way that Middle-earth, New Crobuzon, or the other truly great settings do. I also felt somewhat shortchanged, given how little text there is here relative to the book's price.
In his introduction to this book, Michael Moorcock writes that "It's what you've been looking for." I have indeed been seeking something like this collection, but it didn't quite fulfill my hopes. I do recommend it, though. It's very different from anything else I've read, and VanderMeer has some truly original ideas. In his next books, I may indeed find what I am looking for.
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on October 28, 2002
Vandermeer's words are beautiful hues in a Flemish painting. Ambergris is any town in all its colours,and one cannot admire enough the splendid tapestry of a strange alternate world.Vandermeer has truly a Byzantine mind. I recommend this book to all who wants something original,for a change, something voluptuously dark like Storm Constantine at her best,something that's not so biologically "yucky" as China Mieville's "Bas Lag" ("La-bas",really!) novels.Vandermeer's stories are a refined work of art.
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on October 28, 2002
Vandermeer's words are beautiful hues in a Flemish painting. Ambergris is any town in all its colours,and one cannot admire enough the splendid tapestry of a strange alternate world.Vandermeer has truly a Byzantine mind. I recommend this book to all who wants something original,for a change, something voluptuously dark like Storm Constantine at her best,something that's not so biologically "yucky" as China Mieville's "Bas Lag" ("La-bas",really!) novels.Vandermeer's stories are a refined work of art.
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on September 25, 2001
I have read only the short novel DRADIN IN LOVE which forms part of this book set in the city of Ambergris. The hero Dradin is an irrationally optimistic ex-missionary who against all odds survives - though not unscathed - his love affair with a woman seen in a distant window. The basic plot was used by E. T. A. Hoffman, but the locale and characters and actions are much better done here than in the translations of Hoffman I have read - though the movie version done in England in the 40s is excellent.
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on July 16, 2002
I picked this book up because the author wrote an interesting article on Angela Carter another web site. I was not disappointed.
There are four short stories here, that when added together in this book, create the wild tale of this unbelievable city.
If you like the likes of Angela Carter, Alasdair Grey, or Philip Pullman you will like Jeff Vandermeer.
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