Jeff VanderMeer really made his mark in the last 12 months mostly due to the film adaptation of the first of his Southern Reach trilogy of books, Annihilation. Boasting no less than Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac as leads and directed by Alex Garland this film introduced many to VanderMeer’s work. The film was a disturbing ecological/alien thriller that although it deviated with some of the books plot points and themes made for an engaging film.
Viewers or readers of ‘Annihilation’ will therefore not be surprised that VanderMeers 2018 book ‘Borne’ continues the theme of the corruption of nature. In fact, it is this concept of nature not being what we expect that is central to the book. Like many of the books in this years shortlist the world in which ‘Borne’ is set is dystopian, taking place after some kind global disaster has left the human population at the mercy of biotech companies.
Many of the creations in the book looked at in isolation seem ludicrous but VanderMeers style manages to, whilst not necessarily, explain them but place them in the narrative so that they do not jar too much. The cast of characters is uncomfortably small which narrows the understanding of this future to just the experiences of a handful of people and not-people. I cannot say I liked the characters but I did relate to them.
For me, the biggest character in the book, obviously alongside the titular Borne was nature itself. VanderMeer seems to delight in twisting evolution and natural processes. To extend species to a perverse extent and wrap a narrative around it. Whilst I found this disturbing, sometimes akin to the shock and fear of the bear in the film ‘Annihilation’, it held me in a kind of morbid fascination. I wanted to know why species had been in altered in such a way and more importantly why?
Overall, despite a slow middle section, the book engaged well and came to a satisfactory conclusion. VanderMeer avoids some of the cliche ‘alien’ creature tropes and creates a novel that is unique.
You can find ‘Borne’ at all good booksellers. More information can be found at Fourth Estate Publishing.