Saturday, October 25, 2008

Book Review: "City of Saints and Madmen"

City of Saints and Madmen is Jeff VanderMeer's collection of novellas, essays, faux-bibliographies, and other miscellanea pertaining to the fantastical and bizarre city of Ambergris. Like no other city, real or imagined, Ambergris is a strange place, where mysterious mushroom-people lurk in the dark corners, where King Squid hold positions of great importance and composers' deaths lead to civil unrest.

This is a somewhat top-heavy collection of writings, with three longer novellas at the front followed by a case study (of a troubled author who's come to think the fictional city he created might actually be real) and a lengthy appendix of detritus (in the best sense of the word): letters, pamphlets, short stories, glossaries, and other pieces. It's a difficult book to get a reading rhythm going in, as it moves along rather in fits and starts. VanderMeer's writings are, at times, utterly enthralling, although at other times I found the prose plodding and rather dull.

At the very least, every page of this book is imaginative and intriguing. VanderMeer has written into being a richly-textured place that makes for fascinating reading, even if it doesn't exactly lend itself well to thoughts of vacationing there.

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