“Borne” Jeff VanderMeer

After reading great Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology The Weird, I decided to also check out other books by this author and my first choice was Borne. Quickly after being published, the novel became a bestseller and received widespread critical acclaim. Why? Let’s find out.

PS. If you like weird fiction, you might also be interested in our previous review – The Fisherman by John Langan. 

"Borne" Jeff VanderMeer - review

“We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.”

Borne’s action takes place in a ruined, nameless city, which fell victim to some unspecified ecological disaster. In addition to the remains of humanity divided into several rival factions, the town is also inhabited by genetically modified animals — remnants of experiments conducted by mysterious Company. gruesomely deformed children and the king of this fallen world — giant flying bear called Mord. In order for the picture of the universe skillfully created by Jeff VanderMeer to be complete, you simply cannot forget about the poisonous river flowing through the city, ofter acid rains and the atmosphere of decay prevailing pretty much everywhere. That’s the world where the heroine of the novel, Rahel, finds peculiar, anemone-like creature — Borne.

Preliminary sketch of the Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer (other graphics are available on the author’s Twitter)

Despite the lack of information about the creature’s history or abilities, the woman decides to take care of him. Two of them quickly bond and over time their relationship starts to resemble the one between mother and child. Besides Borne and Rachel, one of the main characters in the novel is Wick — biotechnology trader and former employee of the Company. What secrets does the past of each of these characters hide? What kind of role did they play in the spectacular fall of the city? What is hidden at the lower levels of the Company’s ruins? You can find answers to all these questions in Borne.

From the first to the last page of VanderMeer’s novel, the reader is accompanied by a bizarre, often disturbing atmosphere, pretty typical when it comes to this author’s works. One of the main topics discussed in Borne is our identity and what does it really mean to be human. Thanks to the huge amount of understatements and mysteries complimented by dense post-apocalyptic surroundings, the author forces us to put the story together by ourselves, which in the end leads us to a kind of dark reverie and makes us think about future of our species. 

Well-constructed characters (maybe with a small exception) are also a big advantage of VanderMeer’s weird fiction novel. They always make decisions in accordance with their personalities and previous experience. Using the relationship between Rachel and Borne, the author repeatedly provokes the reader to consider to what extent can we change someone’s nature. The creature often asks his foster mother a really difficult question “Am I a real person?”. As you can imagine, the answer is not simple. 

One of the most interesting themes appearing in Born is the story of the mysterious Company, whose ruins are full of failed genetic experiments and dark, bizarre secrets. By choosing to leave it actually nameless, the author not only leaves another puzzle for the reader but also directs the spotlights to what is the most important in Borne — tales of each person’s tragedy. In my opinion, mentioning that all main characters are connected with the Company with one war or another, will not be a spoiler.

I must admit that the experience of reading Born, for me, was really similar to the one I had with Gene Wolfe’s Peace. Some parts of the story you have to figure out by yourself, others start making sense only when you read them again, while few of them never get any definite answer. Although very demanding and sometimes just hard to read, VanderMeer’s Borne, in my opinion, is undoubtedly worth the effort.

When it comes to drawbacks of the novel, I think that similarly to the aforementioned Gene Wolfe’s Peace, the entry barrier for the reader is pretty high. If you don’t focus on the details and breadcrumbs left by the author, Borne will turn out to be just another post-apocalyptic story.

Summing up:

Borne is a very original post-apocalyptic weird fiction novel, definitely worth reading. With an interesting, thought-provoking story and well-constructed characters, VanderMeer’s book is a tempting proposition for any reader ready to take on the challenge. If you are looking for an ambitious novel, Borne, in my opinion, shouldn’t disappoint you. 

Grade: 8/10

What do you think about Borne? Have you read any other VanderMeer’s books? 

You can buy the book here:



Categories: Horror, Weird fiction

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2 replies

Trackbacks

  1. “Dhalgren” Samuel R. Delany – review – Weird Pond
  2. “Teatro Grottesco” Thomas Ligotti – Weird Pond

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