What changed you? (About a book - BORNE)
I’ve always been a bit jealous of people who say they have a book that changed their lives in a fundamental way. I love books, but for the longest time I didn’t have that. I had no book that single handedly changed the way I thought or changed the way I was or wanted to be, not in any fundamental way I thought. I’ve loved many books and while they have made a strong impact I couldn’t say with good conscience that I ever read a book that really changed my life.
Or so I thought.
Many years ago someone recommended Jeff Vandermeer to me. I had never heard of the man but I went to the library and I borrowed VENISS UNDERGROUND that quickly became a favourite. It still is. Then when I noticed CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN at the library, a beautiful big copy too, I borrowed that as well.
And these books changed my life. Though it has admittedly taken me this long to realise it.
CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN is a fantastic book, but what it is above all else is utterly and completely surprising. It’s not like any other book. It’s so different that it defies your general idea of what a novel is or should be. It was not like anything I’d ever read before. And it was amazing discovery.
That’s how I discovered Weird Fiction and fell in love with it, and that did change my life, though I didn’t quite realise this at the time. Change is like that, it sneaks up on you and it’s there all regular and cozy when you actually realise that things have changed, that you have changed, that everything has changed.
The book CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN had completely changed the way I saw my writing. Suddenly it wasn’t as much of a box as it had been before. After studying literary theory at the University literature had become very much of a box. A story has a start, middle and an ending, it’s supposed to look and be a certain way. It was all very straight forward and on its way to the ‘boring’ section I suppose and then I discovered WEIRD and along comes this book that completely altered everything I’d thought was the correct way to do things. Suddenly I was allowed to go wild, because what Jeff Vandermeer does in his writing is go completely beyond what you expect and he does it in a marvellous way, combining his wizardry with words with fantastic weirdness and imagination. He put my ideas of right and wrong when it comes to writing, upside down in the best possible way. And I don’t think my writing has been the same since, though it’s a learning curve and letting go of old ways is somewhat of a task. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks and that’s why I keep THE WONDERBOOK on my desk or sometimes in my top desk drawer for easy access. It reminds me of this.
So when I hear there is a Vandermeer book coming out I gleefully anticipate it, knowing that it won’t disappoint me because no Vandermeer book has disappointed me so far. It was with much joy that I started reading BORNE and it immediately gave me that “great book” feeling. It’s hard to put a finger on what it is that creates this. You sit down to read and it just feels right, maybe even better and you though it would and you never want it to end and yet the pages just fly by you. The plot, the words, the characters, the phrases, everything comes together perfectly and the reader is mesmerised.
It’s been a while since I was this mesmerised over a book. It only happens every so often nowadays, but this book blew me away as Vandermeer books tend to do. And immediately it is on a list I have in my head of books I have a special affection for, books like IN THE COUNTRY OF LAST THINGS by Paul Auster, ONLY FORWARD by Michael Marshall Smith, EMBASSYTOWN by China Miéville and THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. These books have a common thread even though some are playful like BORNE, and some are utterly serious like THE ROAD, but they all do have unique and well “built” worlds within the work. I really truly love those and I’m so happy to have one more book to add to this particular list as it is my favourite of lists.
I’ll be having book hangovers for MONTHS after this. You know that feeling that comes after reading a great book? You don’t want it to end and when it does you want more, always more! - But unlike other hangovers this one is truly nice.
What on Oðinn’s given earth am I going to read now?!
Oh and if you’ve read the books on my special list, recognise the common element and know of a book that might fit on that list, please do let me know!