Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer (2006) 345 p.
Three years ago I read City of Saints and Madmen, and added Vandermeer to the pile of authors who have a great imagination and some degree of talent, but who have a tendency to ramble on about boring crap and sorely need an editor (see also: China Mieville, late Stephen King). While working at my bookstore I was entranced by the cover of Finch, which is the third book in Vandermeer’s Ambergris series, and I figured I could probably skip the second one. Then, during the agonising collapse of REDGroup, when Borders and Angus & Robertson stores were ejecting themselves of their contents like the dying animals they were, I begrudgingly picked up Shriek: An Afterword for five bucks during a clearance sale.
I can tell why there were so many unread piles sitting around in the store even as workmen were stripping the fixtures. Shriek: An Afterword is terribly tedious, one of those books in which I found it almost impossible to keep my attention on the page. It takes the form of an “afterword” written by Janice Shriek to a historical work by her brother Duncan, detailing their long, sad and sorry lives. Duncan himself has discovered her notes and adds his own comments and remarks throughout the text.
It’s ironic that a work of meta-fiction which deals so heavily with writers, publishing houses and editing is so badly in need of editing itself. Shriek: An Afterword sprawls across 345 large format pages, following Janice and Duncan’s childhood, Duncan’s early work as a historian, his ventures into the undeground below Ambergris, a war that comes to the city, and – excruciatingly – a drawn-out love affair with one of his students. Vandermeer’s prose is reminiscent of China Mieville at his absolute worst. While it’s often clear that Mieville is capable of greater writing, it seems to me that Vandermeer’s prose has actually degenerated since City of Saints and Madmen, a book which I found (in parts, at least) to be not bad. Shriek: An Afterword adds no imaginative flair to the world of Ambergris which wasn’t already present in City of Saints and Madmen; it’s just a boring love story shoehorned into a somewhat interesting world.
When fantasy lacks literary merit, you at least want it to be entertaining. Shriek: An Afterword fails on both counts. I’ll still read Finch, but I don’t have high hopes for it.