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The Vorrh by Brian Catling

He would dream his way back
to life with impossible facts.
There are some books on which I find myself taking a weary chance purely by the weight of Amazonian algorithmic pressure. This is by no means a good reason to buy a book (although what better reason is there to buy one other than there is a book there to buy?) but at 99p an electronic book is easily discarded if it fails to grip. And ths one kept coming up on Amazon, over and over. And over. I grew to hate its cover, the name, the single initial forename of the author. I was in fact dead set against enjoying or even being fair-handed in criticism of the book when finally I turned the first virtual page. 

Prejudice isn't strong enough to describe the feeling.

HOWEVER (in capitals so it's shouty and unavoidable) disregard everything I've said above. 99p is an absolute bargain for this (although I intend to purchase a hard copy when funds allow). It is ineffable, but I will attempt something of a review to give you an idea of why you should drop everything and buy a copy of this and the next two volumes of the trilogy straight a-fucking-way, forgiveness please for the sweary tmesis.

Bearing in mind I have nothing but a vague awareness of any of the historical figures in this so-called fantasy novel, the central inscrutable character of the book is a giant, ancient, virginal forest called the Vorrh, apparently the creation in real life of one of the fictionalised historical characters herein. All action centres on this weight of confusing vegetation, with every major character being drawn to or affected by its verdant mass. Among the cast, there's Ishmael, and bear with me again please, a cyclops brought up in seclusion in a basement by sentient automatons; the women in his life, Ghertrude Tulp - who wanders in by accident due to her keen enthusiasm for breaking and entering - and Cyrena Lohr, blind from birth but whose sight is miraculously restored by sexual congress with Ishmael; a man beset with amnesia and with a bizarre colonial past who crafts a bow from the bones and sinews of his dead wife, herself the child-witch from a local village, and who goes wandering through the forest; the men out to kill him, including a figure from a former life, and the one thoroughly horrendous bastard who for one reason or another wants him alive; and the Frenchman who first imagines the forest, his house-help and the local 'prince' with whom he travels into the heart of the Vorrh only to become the latest victim of a malevolent spirit, born of still-born children, called upon by the zombie-like slave labourers of the logging company that operates at the forest's margins.

It's fucking bonkers.

But, and maybe this comes as a result of the author's other interests, including, but not limited to, performance art, sculpture (of cyclopses no less), and being Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, it is tremendously beautiful, affecting, visual and, well, beautiful. It's not linear, it's not got a neat, closed narrative loop, and sometimes I found myself re-reading passages for the sake of comprehending what was going on, but for all that it holds together like a sweaty, colonial Gormenghast, figuratively dripping with poetry and language that forces the reader to reconsider what is being said, or not said. I have moved volumes two and three to the top of my "Must buy at some point very soon, probably" list, and if you've got a spare 99p and an e-reader, do yourself a favour and give it a punt.

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