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New Releases: Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

FinchFinch is the first Ambergris book I've read - in fact, the first time I've ever experienced Jeff VanderMeer's writing at all. 

And 'experienced' is the right verb. VanderMeer's book is more than a traditional reading experience. The world inside Finch is so well described, so thoroughly painted, that it becomes something much more immersive than words on a page. 

VanderMeer is also using his powers for evil - in Finch, we're treated to a world conquered by fungus. Literally. (And squishily.)

With every page, we're taken through moldy, damp corridors and gray, rotting towers. Leaks, spores, horrible wetness, and awful shudder-inducing sensations abound. VanderMeer has mastered the art of evocative horror - again, by definition: this book is truly horrible. 

The plot is convoluted, as one might expect. The titular Finch is a policeman in a city that is ruled by evil mushroom people (not actually joking). He's assigned a nearly unsolvable murder - so added to his mixed feelings that's he's a traitor to his people & his city, his 'job' and (possibly) his life are now on the line.  Still, Finch's case gives VanderMeer an excuse to explore all aspects of the city of Ambergris. The flooded docks, the rebel hide-outs, the moldy slums... 

Mr VanderMeer actually manages to channel the best of H.P. Lovecraft in Finch. Not the Cthulhloid silliness that is so popular, but the tone & the style that made Lovecraft a timeless great. (Wearing my heart on my sleeve there). Finch is also permeated with an atmosphere of fear - VanderMeer's skilled use of language contributes to this immensely. 

His world of Ambergris isn't just a good idea, it is expressed deftly and emotively. Also in a Lovecraftian vein, VanderMeer eschews the conventional 'good and evil' dichotomy in favor of an enemy (the Grey Caps) that just don't care. They're completely self-interested and humanity is utterly meaningless to them. VanderMeer (like Lovecraft) demonstrates that disinterest is actually more terrifying than conventional evil. There's nothing as terrifying and crushing as learning that we're not the center of the universe.

Despite not reading any of VanderMeer's other Ambergris novels, I followed this book easily and recommend it whole-heartedly. Unless you have a mold allergy, in which case, I'd stay away...

Finch is released in the UK on 1 August 2010 from Corvus Books.