Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

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My review of Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne (Fourth Estate) appears in today’s Sunday Business Post Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

If the Southern Reach trilogy was a sly, sinuous, allusive riff on the anxieties of the West in the 21st century, then Borne is a frontal assault on those anxieties: a haunting, and haunted, vision of a self-harming world brought to the brink of collapse. It also features a giant flying bear (but, perhaps surprisingly, no mushrooms).

The bear’s name is Mord. He is Godzilla-sized; he crushes buildings wherever he lies down to sleep. He is the de facto ruler of Borne’s unnamed post-apocalyptic city – a place in which unregulated genetic engineering has led to a biotech apocalypse. Feral children with mutant wasps for eyes prowl the remains of burnt-out buildings; red salamanders rain from the sky and melt into a poisonous mush; rivers roil and bubble with a stew of fatal toxins. The organisation responsible for creating Mord – as well as sundry other monstrosities – is known simply as the Company. Daily, from the ruins of its HQ, the Company sends out more biotech abominations. Civil order is a wistful dream. […] This should be ridiculous – a giant flying bear? A shapeshifting blob who acts like a stroppy teenager (“I need my space”)? But it works. Freely mingling horror and absurdity, Vandermeer channels the darkest nightmares of the West – its terror of the other, its terror of itself. In its dark beauty, in the sombre extremity of its vision, Borne bypasses the higher reaches of consciousness and shows us not what we fear, but what we are: “We cared but we didn’t do.”

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