24 thoughts on “Borne – Jeff VanderMeer

  1. Great to have my first sight of BORNE above (the UK edition just issued). I look forward to testing out my theory that there is some serendipitous and accidental synergy between this and the classic OOTHANGBART – A SUBVERSIVE TALE FOR ADULTS AND BEARS (2016) by Rebecca Lloyd (reviewed here last January) – but my hunches have been wrong before. But not often!
    My review will appear below in due course as I read BORNE.

    • I won’t spoil it for you, subject to the inherent nature of gestalt-reviewing being ever on the brink of inadvertent plot spoilers. If you are concerned, I hope you will read the book alongside me or retrospectively review your own reading of it in the past alongside mine in the present

  2. “The sun above the carious yellow of one of Mord’s eyes.”

    I am curious.
    Hey, I have a sense of creeping omniscience as reader, but not sure narrator is as quick as me, though, or whether I should tell you what I have learnt. There seems to be a biotech mulch about all this and of a Company, and things that live off or on bigger things, and beetles for putting in ears, and a (sea-)anemone, the only word in English, other than Bournemouth (!) and Mnemonic (“the beetles again?), that has ‘nemo’ embedded, and thus it, whatever it is, should have remained eponymous.
    I know cosmotically more than there is being let on here. No point in trying to itemise the rarified plot. That would spoil it. Or I may be wrong. But it’s stretching my mind toward the Balcony Cliffs where narrator and lover live, and is there a Last Balcony?
    Symbiotic or parasitic?
    Has a pungent didactic promise, but again I could be wrong. Yet to screengrab my mind reading it.
    (There is a city mentioned here, one whose genius loci is still unclear enough not to be able to compare it to the city of Oothangbart.)
    I shall eke out my reading slowly so as to savour this rich, escritory text properly. I am old, wearing orange today, and have things on me, but I do not float. Yet.

    “ropy, dirt-bathed fur, foul with carrion and chemicals.”

    [Read up to “…the enemy of the world outside.”]

  3. “Certainly nothing like this had ever arisen from Wick’s makeshift swimming-pool vat. Yet.”

    With the assumed female narrator and her assumed male ‘partner’ Wick (at least assumed by me), the creeping omniscience creeps further until we gain a sense of mad scientist doings, of a Ballardian pool used as vat. Wick’s backstory with the Company. And the stunning way we learn about the growing nature of Borne ‘himself’… By the way, I won’t myself grow beyond how the book expects you to grow its omniscience. In future, therefore, I won’t spoil it for you, subject to the inherent nature of gestalt-reviewing being ever on the brink of inadvertent plot spoilers. If you are concerned, I hope you will read the book alongside me or retrospectively review your own reading of it in the past alongside mine in the present. Mine is indeed a real review, not a preview as most book reviews tend to be. So far I am loving it.
    This section of reading starts with ‘illogical rain’ and this bears out my theory that books that I gestalt-review alongside EACH OTHER somehow affect each other preternaturally, and an hour or so ago I read here about very similar ‘illogical rain’ in the Quarantined City by J. Everington. By the way, I am fast losing hope that I was right about there being an inadvertent liaison between Borne and Oothangbart.
    Finally for now, I suddenly gather in this section of reading why I ‘unfriended’ Borne’s author on Facebook a month or two ago: “Sometimes I wondered whether I would still find Wick fascinating if I uncovered all of his secrets,…” that elixir of VanderMeer mysteries being impossible for me.

    I have read this book so far up to: “…I had decided to write only useful words.”

  4. “…like fragments of a dark tale I had to put together myself.”

    More of Wick’s backstory with the Company. The fish project and the giant bear.
    One of the most important questions in all literature, the one from John Cowper Powys, happens to be: ‘Is it a tench?’.
    The images of those on the balconies…

    “All of these people he had let into his life, and who had turned against him.”

    So far read up to: “…the border beyond which Wick could not venture.”

  5. “…thinking we could outrun the unraveling of the world.”

    A Dream Archipelago-like exodus was needed during her childhood (an imaginary childhood friend or an imaginary childhood in itself?), as we find more of the narrator’s backstory. I was right a female. Rachel. And the words writ upon her by boyhood vandals, Wick’s care, Borne’s growth, a gradual discovery of what Borne is and his own growing consciousness and capability of communication, learnt baby-like then childhood-like, of what he is from within, all of them under the tutelary Mord, like an (internet?) cloud above the Balcony Cliffs, a fixing of memory’s compass. The stench Mord then left…
    I feel the words are like worm drugs within me. Beetle-borne mnemonics. The narrator as Rachel with a tutelary Leena Krohn above her like Mord, sussing out her Mr. Pelican and other sub-tutelary creatures from another ‘cloud’ of fiction…?

    Read up to: “…didn’t know what serious was.”

  6. “For one terrified moment I thought he was an eclipse or a chemical cloud or my death.”

    …being Rachel’s own Mord. But it’s her Borne, the Borne entity, that is the Krohn-like accretion by hit and miss from something very strange toward something almost human with sun-glasses, both she and Borne in jealous triangulation with Wick, but who is jealous of whom, who talks with no mouth, who has dreams of Death, a semi-religious aura, this quarantined city like a bubble of space and time, not reality? This is a stunning way of using relatively plain, but skilful, narrative words as meaning-music, a swimming-pool vat of approximations (as well as being a vat of inferred chemical soup, in interface with the Company and the competing forces, Mord and the Magician), a vat of approximations, but approximations with definition, the result, perhaps, being a different definition in each reader’s mind. My evolving definition is this review. Or it will be. Each of us to compare our coordinates of the assonance of meaning, the only way to absorb this novel, the comparisons of all readers’ thoughts to reach the optimum gestalt Borne. But being in brexited or quarantined Britain, I am late to this game, because this book was available earlier to its born-land as now ruled by another Mord, an orange one? Which might, just might, take us back to Oothangbart?

    Now read up to: “That is all that he would say.”

  7. “, transfixed by a sense of triangulation,”

    We follow Rachel as she tell us of her journey outside the Balcony Cliffs, learning more of the inimical forces inanimate and tutelary or mis-tutelary animate, Mord and the Magician, but does she gradually discern Borne in ‘his’ slow-morphing adult or child-like disguise following her? A type of looking at Krohn’s Mr Pelican again?
    I note mention here, too, of a Green Dog in this context, reminding me of the Rasnic Tem Green Dog. Read it and see.
    Also I sometimes sense Borne with a myriad eyes, sometimes with just two, but somehow I feel it is ME looking at ‘him’ with several different numbers of my own eyes variously from time to time. That’s how Borne makes you look at ‘him’.
    The vision of the three ‘astronauts’, meanwhile, out in the derelict land – and the implications of these – is an image I don ‘t think I shall ever forget.
    When she gets backs to the Balconies, we learn more of the traction involved in the Rachel-Wick woman-man relationship…

    Read up to: “I’ve brought you in late.”

  8. “His asymmetrical rhymes were like bad puns in three dimensions…”

    Rachel goes scavenging with Krohn-morphing Borne in the dystopic, duplicitous city, as I see it, and this adventure leads us to our first sighting of the Mord proxies, only about a third way through the book. An amazing battle between them and feral children on a derelict roof.
    While in the city of Oothangbart, I didn’t realise the true nature of the characters till towards the very end, in spite of the giveaway of its up front subtitle. Yet here it’s more of a möbius swaddling that I get from the Borne book. Like the asymmetric puns of Borne, and the self-referential “You are a … Borne.” Borne is Borne. And consequently, I, as reader, am — like Rachel is inside Borne ‘himself’ for real during these pages — inside the book called Borne, consumed by it, while, as its gestalt reviewer, I feel I could ALSO be accused of “hugging and squeezing and mauling” it or him from on top, as it says explicitly.
    Don’t be under any illusions. This book promises to be a great one. It probably already is.

    Now read up to: “I was unwilling to accept that this had just been a coincidence…”

    • As an aside, today in U.K. is the State Opening of Parliament by the Queen. A political commentator called Norman Smith just said on TV that Brexit was floating like a giant heffalump over Parliament…

  9. “Yes, it was Mord — floating and diving across the night sky, high up, so huge that even from a distance he blotted out the stars.”

    Rachel and Borne, a touching relationship of mother as if with her child, amid the chemical gluck of a world, tutoring Borne as to the configuration of the universe.
    I laughed at the prospect of Borne marrying the ceiling.
    And more closely approximating the Magician as if Rachel is reading a book about herself – or vice versa. Wanting to consume souls, not motherly so much as smotherly?
    The politics of scavenging.
    And a Wick who now approximates Borne more closely, too? All men become juvenile again before they become senile, I guess. Myself included.

    Read up to: “Or her true face.”

  10. “She had found a way in because she’d always been there.”

    …in a way I sometimes feel about certain works of fiction. Not that I have read it before or seen anything similar. Only some tangentials.
    From learning more about not only the “quadrants of Borne” but also the triangulations of Rachel’s coordinates with Wick and the Magician, the Company, the living biotech ingredients of her own backstory’s restaurant visit, towards a deeper understanding and tension between herself and Borne. Can you visualise Borne without reading this book? Visualise his possibly naïve relationship with Rachel? Some literary characters and the books wherein they are created have a power of osmosis beyond the act of reading them or even the necessity of having the close-osmotic book in your house. Particularly Borne himself as well as Borne as the book’s eponym, a thing in the hand. And arguably Rachel and Wick, too. In fact I somehow knew Wick would have this epithet eventually: “…the intermittent beacon that was Wick.” And now he does. Also his need for medicine etc.
    Please forgive a long quote, but this part of Rachel’s backstory seems relative to our own times and to my other concurrent book reviews: “We had come to that city almost miraculous out of a landscape of lawlessness, fleeing a mad dictator who had taken to cannibalism and random amputations. We had made it through the outer fortifications and barricades, the quarantine of endless questions…”.
    There is yet much more to learn about this dystop or dystart in Earth’s timeline.

    Read up to: “…because I believed he still had so much to learn.”
    Around halfway through.

  11. “That ground wasn’t simple, wasn’t dead or alive, but contested between the animate and the inanimate.”

    …like the felt texture of this text.
    Here a mind-stirringly panoramic, cinematic view by narrative Rachel of Mord’s manoeuvres in the sky, giving a more reliable gestalt handle upon what factions are warring within this text. And spinrad Mord’s “deranged building code.” A Healthy and Safety code from the vista of a darkened tower here in UK this week…
    It’s strangely synchronous, as an aside. how generous are this book and two others that I am concurrently reviewing, generous with the word ‘yowling’ (see here and here.)
    “We could not escape the yowling and moaning of Mord…”

    Read up to: “But I did not believe it.”

  12. The salvaging, the ability of Borne to drill tubes through walls for the use of Rachel’s customised telescopes so as to spot, say, a “dead fridge”. I do similar to this book from outside it. I am a sort of Borne myself (hovering morphed as Mord?) when approaching this book, instinctive parts of me inimical to it but absorbent of its didactic detritus and alcoholic minnows, yes, finally amenable to it all, even with the Magician’s lack of a backup plan, and the evolving Mord proxies…
    I am one of those “old men digging holes.”
    During their empty “Silence of Järvenpää” years? But perhaps that’s good for seeing what’s not there. (Sometimes more important than what is there.)

    Read up to: “, felt forgiven for trying earlier to educate him with my books.”

  13. “I almost couldn’t bear it, but I had to bear it.”

    It is easy to forget that the past participle of the verb “bear” is “borne”, and it is not a spoiler to remind you of that fact.
    But it would be a spoiler if I now divulged the developing nature of Borne in interface with Rachel and Wick. Rest assured it is mind-staggering and was a shock to me, even to one like me who gestalt real-time reviewed the collected fictional works of Leena Krohn over the reviewing gestation period of nine months in 2016 in the same way I am now doing so to Borne itself. And recently to Rebecca Lloyd’s Oothangbart.
    This book’s repercussions are, however, unique: theatrical repercussions of Borne’s form of shape-shifting and, then, those of the world outside, of Mord and his sudden disability to fly (flying being akin to writing fiction as flights of fancy), all of this also being staggering and seeming somehow to make mind-shift my own self-visualised shape as the reader outside this book, in the light of the specific photograph – upon the inside flap of the book’s dustjacket – of its freehold mordant-expressioned author perhaps contemplating the morphing of his leasehold narrator calling herself Rachel who is visualised even further inside the book with her difficult cross-currents of relationship with him whom she thinks is Wick, a Wick that is on and off like a lighthouse or erstwhile “intermittent beacon”?

    Read up to: “…and I wondered what else in this city we could not hear, would only hear when it was taken from us.”

  14. People leave the word LEAVE near the discarded placards of the dead astronauts, it says. No sign of the Brexit era’s REMAIN sadly. I scavenge in the direct past and laterals of BORNE, as Rachel scavenges in the detritus, as the mordant author constructively does salvage and scavenge also in Rachel-Wick’s THE BIG BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION (a huge bank of living biotech and hyper-imaginative literature that my son tells me is the best book of this kind he has ever read) and in Mordant’s own AREA X: Southern Reach, both of which I myself salvaged, savaged and scavenged here and here respectively.
    “–that it meant something. That it meant nothing.”
    “The river is poison,” cf the bear city of Oothangbart or Rupert’s Nutwood?
    “What Borne wrote in his journal: ‘The world is broken and I don’t know how to fix it.'”
    “passwords for our identities.” – who can tell what or who will be borne next?
    My eyes fill with tears as well as my heart and brain being swollen with the consolation of preternatural hyper-imagination instilled by gestalt dreamcatching, hawling, scavenging here alongside others.

    Read up to: “I knew the truth.”

  15. “The ghost’s purpose changed and the ghost became a chronicler in her head of a damaged city,”

    I don’t think a fiction work has worked quite like this before. The narrator as a ghost separate from her but still herself, perceived from outside and inside the book as variously one or the other, or momentarily a blend of both?
    There is feel of the disassociated, the dispossessed, the detached, the diffident about this text, one that still embraces you though! No mean feat.
    Rachel-and-the-ghost in interface with a group of scavengers amid the detritus, some very young, one boy disguised as Borne disguised as himself? A disguise of a disguise. Like this book itself, with its mordant staring face on the inside back flap, ironic or damning? The Intentional Fallacy as a face to face the world later morphed from inside by the cerebral hyper-imaginations of Mord and his murder-bears?

    Read up to: “But I knew Borne’s memory palace was vast and deep and full of skulls.”

  16. “But to the south?”

    An AgraAskan diaspora of two, with those in the plot following around them as swaddling diaspora, and those reading about it, toward the Company, fleeing the murder-bears and foxes and other proxies, via a detritus of words gathered stylishly like sharp points in torn ears, softnesses, too, but essentially a mis-experimentation terrain including Rachel’s backstory of an island childhood, smoothly expressed, now like a dream archipelago, and Wick’s almost Christ-like stature demoted toward his own backstory of the Company, where Mord was once colleague to be punished by mutancy of intent, as I once worked in my own ghostliness of self’s prime of life for a Company about which I am now ashamed. Why I spend much of my pension on books like this one and then dreamcatch them. Everyone’s story is in this book, it seems, borne by a Mother Magician’s or Mordant One’s bearing… magical and hyper-imaginative as well as foul and sharp-pointed. These sections starting with salvation as well as savagery, scavengery and salvage.
    A panoply of journey, Rachel seeing death as her ghost’s death not her own. A touch of Pooh “last honey out of the jar”, a glitch or stoppage in time, Wick’s letter preserved for optimum timing of reading, Mord as sky’s canopy, the biotech that perhaps we have all since become or that we once were? This book is some oubliette no longer clogged and clotted with bears, although, paradoxically, it surely is still thus clogged. Our world’s still in embattled interface, the normal and the grotesque, expressed by the alchemies and distillations of the Revamenders. Look through today the Mordant One’s extended telescopes or binoculars, use them to peer into our own dead fridge, still warm.

    Reached South as far as: “The darkness had arranged itself into something that resembled intent.”

  17. “Rachel, you can’t see what I see. I can see all the connections,” Borne said.

    This ending sprawls like Borne’s body along the ground, sprouting heads, instead of rising taller and more weaponised. In many ways, an amazing focussed vision that will split you from end to end, but, in other ways, a vast example of itself, being itself, erupting inchoately as itself. As if one King Kong battles an identical King Kong, but which is the real King Kong? This book battles itself in the same way.
    Our journey is through Rachel’s eyes, via her temporarily withheld omniscience regarding Wick’s letter, at least withheld from us the readers. But I am perhaps a special reader, one who actually sees the beatific nature of Borne towards the end, the sense that the Magician is a conniving Theresa May in my reality today, and all is playing fast and loose with my sadness and admiration at the most eponymous poignant-plant ending of the book as a whole – and when I watch Borne earlier become tantamount, in my eyes, to Oothangbart’s tower of bagels by the poisoned river, I know I must be a special reader. One who sees my own return to the Company, via the holding ponds and crack passage, now remembering when I watched it being built around me in the 1980s, with its office bays, and exploitation of those it called customers, while in this book, the customers form a gestalt as Mother Nature herself, then mutated into the Magician, where the evil Brexit insulation and cladding burnt. The proxies swarmed. The Trump tower tweeted. Some of the things that can be read out of and into this suppurating, crepitating book with its mordant face photographed on the back flap. And I am also part of a couple like Wick and Rachel with all their dire glitches and jealousies of mites-into-mountains and eventual mending and healing, we hope. We need to face ourselves with the worst so as to stand any chance of obtaining the best. The reader him- or herself is actually addressed towards the end, and I have followed you, Rachel, like the Magician did. I am perhaps more powerful than the Magician. I sort of created the book for myself from the chemical mulch of its words. It is my salvage. And here it is for all to see, with this review. That’s why I am a special reader! We all need to triangulate the coordinates of this book, and compare such triangulations, form them into a universal gestalt, and when I now look, google search, I will hopefully find similar reviews of this accretively created book, still accreting, even as I speak.

    “Complex and beautiful, with many levels.”


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