No Happy Nonsense

Shriek: An Afterword / Jeff VanderMeer

April 4th, 2023 | Quick Thoughts

Janice Shriek, once a successful gallery owner in the city of Ambergris, is now a washed-up tour guide, struggling to make ends meet as her world around her is slowly, attritionally consumed. Janice decides to write an afterword to her brother Duncan's infamous The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris.

Duncan, ever the scoundrel of sorts, has emerged from the underground to edit and provide commentary upon Janice's manuscript, seemingly his last act of existence within our world, as neither of the siblings Shriek have been seen since Janice finished her work and left it at the pub she was staying at/using as her office (which Duncan had also used as a makeshift office previously, before his own disappearance.)

Have Duncan and Janice gone into the underground world of the Gray Caps, the mushroom-type people that long ago committed The Silence upon Ambergris, and who now act as a strange and dangerous, yet removed threat to every day life in Ambergris?

Shriek: An Afterword picks up where VanderMeer's earlier work, City of Saints and Madmen left off. Though where City is a collection of shorts that really spreads out its spores across the city, giving a panoramic view of the city from a wide cast of characters, Shriek is far more self-contained, acting as Janice's epitaph as she recounts the more memorable parts of her and Duncan's lives, with Duncan helpfully (or unhelpfully) chiming in at times with his version of history.

Janice's Gallery and the New Art wave, The War of the Houses, an opera in the middle of the war, The Festival of the Freshwater Squid, Martin Lake's party. All of these notable events, as well as the personal stories of Janice and Duncan; their shared lunches with Bonmot, Sybel's relationship with Janice and Duncan (and how vastly different they were), Duncan's obsession with Mary Sabon, Duncan and Janice working for the broadsheet, Mary refuting the entirety of Duncan's historical/underground research with her career, Duncan and Janice's fall into obscurity, both of them going under.

The nature of Duncan editing and annotating Janice's history proved an interesting mechanic throughout the book. Janice is presumed dead, so Duncan, by virtue of having worked on the manuscript last, gives us the final & authoritative version of things. He also has this authority in all things regarding the Gray Caps, their fungal creations, and the underground world they inhabit. But can we trust Duncan? I'm not entirely sure. Anyone having their dirty laundry aired over a love that they lost and ultimately undid their entire legacy would, at best, want to lessen the misery of the recollection of events.

It should also be noted that Duncan is some kind of human-to-fungus-transitionary-being that is constantly having his body changed into different shapes and types of existence from his increased exposure to the underground. If he is or is not a Gray Cap, or some kind of smaller part of a whole, or a fungal starfish, or Duncan Shriek, we may never know.

Over here in the real world, I read this book as part of the Ambergris Trilogy collection published by MCD/FSG. I always prefer reading a physical book rather than an ereader or reading something off my computer, but I did find it cumbersome to wield this 900 page tome of a book at times. I'm really glad I read City previously to have a good familiarity with Ambergris at large, but I really wish I read it right before reading Shriek so that I'd catch all the significant and insignificant finer details between the two books. I'll be reading the final (for now?) part of the Ambergris saga, Finch immediately, though. So hopefully the spores stay fresh and murky in my brain.

Filed Under: Reviews