Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Third Bear by Jeff Vandermeer

August 2010, IPG (but sourced through Gazelle Books) 
274 pages, Paperback
Review copy 

Science Fiction (although I add horror as a genre too!) 

The unexpected, oodles of tension, savage behaviour, gore, death, tragedy

Summary from Gazelle Books
The award-winning short fictions in this collection highlight the voice of an inventive contemporary fantasist who has been compared by critics to Borges, Nabokov, and Kafka. In addition to highlights such as "The Situation," in which a beleaguered office worker creates a child-swallowing manta ray to be used for educational purposes and "Errata," which follows an oddly familiar writer who has marshalled a penguin, a shaman, and two pearl-handled pistols with which to plot the end of the world, this volume contains two never-before-published stories. Chimerical and hypnotic, this compilation leads readers through the post-modern into what is emerging into a new literature of the imagination.

Nayuleska's thoughts
I need to make it clear that I've only read one and a bit of the stories in this book. It's not that I don't like it - I do. But I have a low tolerance for things that I class as having horror elements. I was suitably freaked out by the Third Bear story. Jeff is a mastermind at building up suspense, creating a creepy atmosphere and creatures that both baffle, intrigue and torment humans. The best part of the writing (which was also the worst points for me as a reader) was knowing that some of the characters were doomed to die from the moment they set on their mission to face the Third Bear. That was worse than if it had all been a surprise, because I was mentally going 'no, turn back' at them. The characters themselves know their own fate - but it shows how desperate the situation is for them to carry on regardless of the consequences. 

I think the need for me to stop reading shows exactly how good Jeff is as a writer. The emotions I'm feeling as a direct result of reading the stories are pretty intense. I will eventually read the rest of the stories, there are 16 in total, but it might take a very long time. The second story that I'm part way through isn't as gory or as horrifying in there's-a-strange-beast-among-us of The Third Bear. But it's creeping me out by having such an innocent creature being distinctly not normal. 

I encourage everyone to give this a go, whether you read it one story at a time with long intervals between each one (like me), or have the stomach to read it all in one go (I applaud you for doing so!). It's very well written, engages the readers imagination, and will make you think about the stories long after you've read them. 

Final conclusion 
Brilliantly creepy and descriptive short stories, ideal for bedtime reads, or someone who likes stories with horror elements, but can't necessarily stomach a full novel of horror. 

Check out more of Jeff's work on his website.

Suggested reads: Gone by Michael Grant and 0.4 by Mike Lancaster 


Cliona said...

Oooh, this sounds scary, no wonder you didn't finish it!

Nayuleska said...

Well I finished the first story (which is the one the book is named after), just couldn't finish the rest. Will take a long time for me to get through them!