Thursday, July 21, 2011


Jeff Vandermeer

Corvus, 2010

In the city of Ambergris, half rotten and lying in ruins, in an apartment two dead bodies are found. One of the bodies belongs to the man, the other to a gray cap, a representative of fungus race, enslaved people. Grey caps captured Ambergris six years before the described events. Fungi have used the war between the royal houses, and now hold the men under his control, having caught on its side apostates – the partials: they are people whose bodies are irrevocably changed under the influence of fungal spores used as drugs. However, the gray caps are not all-powerful, and to find the killer of a man and a gray cap, a gray cap named Heretic orders the detective John Finch to investigate the murder. Murder is extremely strange, in the apartment gray caps did not find any evidence, any possible clues, not even the slightest idea who the murdered were. On the body of the fungus was only a memory bulb. After eating it, you can get access to the memories of a dead man. Finch’s boss Heretic tells the detective to solve the crime as soon as possible, otherwise Finch will be sent to a labor camp. In the city, however, units of the rebels are still operating, plotting to overthrow the plan of gray caps, until it it too late. And when Finch realizes that the murders are somehow connected with the rebels, his life is hanging by a thread.

«Finch» is called a "fungus noir", and this is only half of the true. Fungus here does play an important role, but book is called noir by mistake. Yes, there is a dark atmosphere, there is a detective, betrayals, but these features are not unique to noir only. «Finch» is a police procedural in the world of George Orwell's "1984" with a fair amount of Philip Dick. Finch in the novel is not doomed hero. He is clever and rather relies on its head, not the heart. Finch is tired man, tired of himself, of his helplessness, of total despair. He is a fighter, but the enslavement breaks even the most persistent. In the life of Finch, there are women who could be considered femme fatal as yet another feature of noir. But women are not selfish, greedy, fallen, but also tired of trying to survive under the weight of fungus race. They are not heartless ladies, each of them loves Finch. A lump of events that is about to lead to disaster, suddenly turns into a completely different direction.

Does that mean that «Finch», erroneously been called noir, is a bad novel? Certainly not. This is exciting novel. Primarily due to the fact that Vandermeer managed to create a distinct character in Finch. Finch, all these years living under oppression and working for someone else's race, pushes his past as deeply as possible into himself. His past is his salvation and his death. He was once a soldier, now an accomplice to the gray caps. Finch despises himself to work for the invaders to stay alive. And when the investigation takes the detective on the rebels before Finch faces the most difficult choice in his life.

Fungal mold in the book is a metaphor for decay and rot. Above the town is filthy smell, all enmeshed in a cobweb. And it seems that this will never end. Inside people hope rots. Many sit on the drug, changing forever. (Thus, another detective, Stark, under the influence of mushrooms becomes just inhuman and asks Finch to kill him.)

Vandermeer deceives the reader several times, first offering a police investigation, then a spy novel, and after all partisan chronicles. The author masterfully weaves intrigue, there are a lot of plot twists. Fantasy ambiance refreshes a detective story.

Stylistically Vandermeer successfully demonstrated that level of fear and despair that fill the city. Residents of Ambergris are afraid to say too much and think too much, and Vandermeer also removes all the excess from a sentence: «Back in the hotel. Near midnight. Didn't know for sure. Approached the landing below the seventh floor. Heard Feral hissing at something. Saw a flickering, golden light that projected a circle of fire. Elongated and slanted down the hallway. Distorted further by the fungus on the walls. A rank smell, like too-strong perfume».

Vandermeer has written a masterful, wonderful novel, and we can only applaud.

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