Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Why I Stopped Reading City of Saints and Madmen
I have heard nothing but praise for Jeff Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, and I wanted to read the book for several years now. Only problem is that my library only had City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris, a shorter edition published by Cosmos Books. After a couple of years I gave in and grabbed The Book of Ambergris from the library.
The collection opens with “Dradin, In Love” and from the start I was disappointed.
I think this is a case of Vandermeer’s style just not working for me. Obviously, Jeff Vandermeer is a talented writer. He has a World Fantasy Award on his shelf, Michael Moorcock wrote the introduction to this collection, and pretty much anywhere I go online I see high profile praise for Vandermeer whenever his work is mentioned. People like his work.
I couldn’t get in to it.
“Dradin, In Love” is written in a curious mix of present tense and past tense (at least at the start of the story, I didn’t notice it after a couple of pages) and Vandermeer works his descriptions of Ambergis in such a way that the stank of the city comes alive and off the page. But, the story *feels* description heavy to me. There are little tidbits I liked in how Vandermeer built Ambergris with the story, the mushroom dwellers, the book store, the chase / doublecross at the end of the story. There is much to admire here, but I was never in a position where I wanted more from the story and instead, I had to force myself to keep reading.
I started the second story, “An Early History of Ambergris”, which is written exactly like what you would expect from the title – as a history – complete with absurd footnotes. I like the footnotes, but this is where I checked out.
What this means is that I’m missing the World Fantasy Award winning novella “The Transformation of Martin Lake”. In an intellectual sense I would like to read the story someday, but I’ve completely checked out of Ambergis and though I’m two thirds of the way through the collection, I’m done.
I know that City of Saints and Madmen was skillfully constructed, and I appreciate the construction of this collection more than I did The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but this impressive work of imagination is not at all for me.