Finch – Jeff Vandermeer

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I loved The City and the City and was craving a book with a similar style. An Internet search led to Finch, another detective story set in an imaginary universe. Its impressive blurb and Vandermeer’s numerous award nominations led me to request the book from the publishers. Unfortunately this book pushed my tolerance of the bizarre to the limit and I ended up being more than a little confused.

Finch is set in a world dominated by fungus. The ‘gray caps’ are fungi with the ability to walk, but the cities are also covered with networks of mushrooms whose spores have the ability to affect people in numerous evil ways. The central character, Finch, is a detective who is asked to investigate the double murder of a gray cap and a human. The research is very different to that of our world and involves everything from seeing the dreams and lives of others by eating their ‘memory bulbs’ to battling with giant mushrooms. It was all too weird for me. I never really understood the physical laws of the universe and my continual confusion meant that I couldn’t connect with the story.

The writing style also took a long time to get used to. The sentences were often clipped and this gave the text a jumpy feel.

When they looked outside, they’d seen a dome-like haze above the north part of the bay. Green-orange discharge like sunspots. They’d just watched it. Watched it and not known what to say. What to do. Barricaded the house. Spent the rest of the night with weapons within reach.

The pace was fast, but the numerous chase scenes held little interest for me. I wish that the plot had been slower so that I’d have a chance to understand the motivations of the characters a little better.

I also think that I was at a disadvantage by not having read Vandermeer’s two previous books set in the same world. Although all three books are independent I’m sure that a greater knowledge of the surroundings would have led me to appreciate the book far more.

Overall this book was too confusing for me – I need my fictional worlds to comply to more basic principles!

Recommended to anyone who wants to read something very different.

Have you found anything similar to The City and the City?

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  1. Jeane says:

    It sounds very bizzarre. I like books that are highly imaginative but the world still has to make sense in some way! I see you’re reading Wolf Totem; I loved that book. How are you liking it?

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, I’m afraid my sidebars a lying slightly at the moment :-( I’m getting a bit behind with my reading so haven’t actually started Wolf Totem yet (or finished Harmony Silk Factory) Hopefully I’ll catch up over the weekend. I am really looking forward to starting Wolf Totem. I think I’ll love it.

  2. Sandy says:

    Walking fungus? WTF?

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, It could work – Wyndham made walking plants believable. It is just a shame that I didn’t have an emotional attachment to those having to deal with the weirdness :-(

  3. Jenners says:

    This sounds like it might be too weird for me. Hard to feel an emotional connection to a fungus! Good luck on your search for a similar book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I don’t think you are ever supposed to develop an emotional attachment to the fungus, but having one with the people would have been good.

  4. David H says:

    Jackie, I think Finch probably does make more sense if you’ve read at least Shriek: an Afterword first — that book shows where the transformed Ambergris of this one comes from.

    What sort of similarity to The City & the City are you looking for? I’m struggling to think of another book I’ve read quite like it.

    Off the top of my head, though: you might appreciate Zoo City by Lauren Beukes.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, I’m looking for something with a reasonably fast paced, but a bit weird. I am bored of reading about the every day world all the time and so want to read something that stretches my imagination, but at the same time I need to be able to empathise with the characters. I also need good quality writing. Not much to ask for ;-)

  5. David H says:

    The other one I can think of that you might try is The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thanks David – that does look interesting :-)

  6. I tried reading City of Saints and Madmen last year, or maybe it was this year, and I couldn’t hack it. It did nothing for me.

    The City and The City was good although Perdido Street Station or The Scar are better. China Miéville is an entertaining writer that can be let-down by the sheer weight of excess which was the main problem with Kraken (his latest).

    maybe try some Clive Barker, not really similar to The City and The City but he’s a marvellous writer. go for Weaveworld

    1. Jackie says:

      Damned Conjuror, I wasn’t a big fan of Perdido Street Station. I loved the world building in the beginning, but didn’t like the way it turned into one big chase scene. I thought TC&TC was miles better :-)

      I have heard Barker mentioned a lot, but never tried him. Thanks for the recommendation.

      1. :(

        get Weaveworld – it’s like fantasy without the annoying names and pseudo-medieval nonsense and talking pixies and writers who know nothing about language thinking that writing in ye olde english gives their book some kind of hard-hitting realism.

        also watch Hellraiser for some good scares and, while we’re on the subject of Hellraiser, try and find the unused Coil soundtrack of the film…genuinely one of the most frightening soundtracks ever (do not listen while walking home at 2 in the morning)

  7. Amy says:

    Fungus? Mushrooms? I’m confused!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, and I haven’t even begun to explain some of the other things in this book ;-)

  8. Steph says:

    This sounds super weird and fun… never heard of it before, but your review has definitely piqued my interest. Perhaps I’ll start with The City, The City first and if I like that try this next?

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I think you’ll really enjoy TC&TC. I hope you decide to give it a try soon. I’d love to know your thoughts on Finch – it is certainly worth a try if you are up for a weird challenge ;-)

  9. Alex says:

    That does sound bizarre, in a nighmare-ish sort of way.

    I usually get very frustrated when everything is possible in a story. I need a certain amount of reality, or at least, the basic laws of nature to be in place.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I don’t mind the laws of nature being removed, but I need to know exactly what is happening and why. This book left too much unexplained and more poor little brain couldn’t work it out properly. :-(

  10. Kathleen says:

    The book just sounds too bizarre for my tastes!


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