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Veniss Underground.

i guess i'm in the mood for talking about the books i've read, in mini-reviews (or mini-opinions) than i usually am. i'm sure it won't last.

anyhow: i read jeff vandermeer's veniss underground over the weekend. a slim, lavishly written novel about genetic experimentation, an underground city, and revenge. it's entirely worth the time of any individual to track down, and they will be treated to some fairly exciting prose work, most notably in the third, and largest, section of the novel, with the main narrator, shadrach.

veniss underground has three main narrators--nicholas, nicola, and shadrach--and it begins with nicholas' first person narration:

Let me tell you why I wished to buy a meerkat at Quin's Shanghai Circus.

the narrative then follows the ramification of nicholas' purchase, and his interaction with quin. it's a fine journey to make, as the city of veniss, shown through vandermeer's eyes, is utterly alive: twisted, dark, oddly beautiful, and utterly compelling. you'll be drawn into the locale, find yourself wishing that vandermeer had written a larger book, with more of it. (there are, apparently, some short stories set in veniss, and with any luck, they'll be collected.) there are, naturally, faults: the characters are a somewhat flat, especially shadrach, and vandermeer has made a conscious effort to make quin enigmatic. the latter of the two is more of a personal fault, just something i'd like to see, as, i guess, the first might be too. but still, that's what i think. oh, and the meerkats themselves were out of place for me--the one out of place image in the otherwise seamless world.

the book has been well reviewed across the web, so it shouldn't be hard for you to track some down if you want to read more. but, before you do, beware: they will probably discuss some of the scenes that happen in veniss underground, and in doing so, i think, they will dispel some of the surreal beauty in which they emerge. trust in me, trust in vandermeer's considerable skill (he won a world fantasy award) and give the book a whirl without them if this sounds like your kind of thing.

Comments

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(Anonymous)
Sep. 24th, 2003 01:55 pm (UTC)
Veniss
Ben:

Thanks for the mini-review. Re the characters--I wanted to cross-triangulate the characterization across the three sections, which must not have worked for you. Shadrach is definitely single-minded, it is true.

Re Quin--you're faced with a dilemma when you set up a character of that type. You can reveal more or you can reveal less. Either way, you're screwed in the end, because the reality can't possibly compete with the reader's expectations leading up to the unveiling. But if you have access to the hardcover edition with the afterword, you will get a much better picture of Quin.

Re meerkats--a certain percentage of readers have this reaction, and I can't fault it. It might have been better, for those readers, to call them something other than meerkats, so as not to have that cheery image from nature specials in the back of your head.

Anyway, thanks again for the review.

Jeff
benpeek
Sep. 24th, 2003 05:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Veniss
hey jeff.

yeah, the characterisation across three sections didn't work for me. there was one part in shadrach's arc where i thought nicola's narrative would've fitted well--but then, of course, nicholas's narrative wouldn't fitted, and i would have had a completely different book, i imagine. the same with quin, i guess.

sometimes it happens, though, when you read a book, you think, i would prefer this... which is not what the author intended to do, or what the shape of the narratives in the book accomidate. but it's always a small quibble when i realise it, cause, i hey, i didn't write the book,a nd if everyone did everything like i said, it'd probably be a small, boring world :)

anyhow, thanks for the comments. as i said, i enjoyed the book, and i reckon other folks should check it out.
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