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City of Saints and Madmen (The Ambergris Series) Audio CD – Unabridged, April 12, 2022
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In City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer has reinvented the literature of the fantastic. You hold in your hands an invitation to a place unlike any you've ever visited--an invitation delivered by one of our most audacious and astonishing literary magicians.
City of elegance and squalor. Of religious fervor and wanton lusts. And everywhere, on the walls of courtyards and churches, an incandescent fungus of mysterious and ominous origin. In Ambergris, a would-be suitor discovers that a sunlit street can become a killing ground in the blink of an eye. An artist receives an invitation to a beheading--and finds himself enchanted. And a patient in a mental institution is convinced he has made up a city called Ambergris, imagined its every last detail, and that he's really from a place called Chicago.
By turns sensuous and terrifying, filled with exotica and eroticism, this interwoven collection of stories, histories, and "eyewitness" reports invokes a universe within a puzzle box where you can lose--and find--yourself again.
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City of Saints and Madmen packs so much literary and emotional matter into the confines of one city...VanderMeer keeps going deeper and finding new forms of gold.-- "Locus"
Beautifully written, virtually hallucinatory work...Connoisseurs of the finest in postmodern fantasy will find it enormously rewarding.-- "Publishers Weekly (starred review)"
Make the most of the tapestry of tales and visions before you. It is a rare treasure, to be tasted with both relish and respect. It's what you've been looking for.-- "Michael Moorcock, winner of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award"
Somewhere at the intersection of pulp and surrealism, drawing on the very best of both traditions, is Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris. Unsettling, erudite, and shot through with unexpected humor...Ambergris is one of my favorite haunts in fiction.-- "China Mieville, author of The Last Days of New Paris"
This is fiction to stand alongside that of Calvino and Borges.-- "The Guardian (London)"
- Publisher : Blackstone Publishing; Unabridged edition (April 12, 2022)
- Language : English
- Audio CD : 1 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1982615036
- ISBN-13 : 978-1982615031
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on May 19, 2017
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Top reviews from the United States
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"Dradin, In Love" is a surreal tale about a missionary returning from the jungle, becoming obsessed with a woman he sees in a window, and enlisting the aid of a reprehensible dwarf to help him woo her. The story spirals into madness and an alarming degree of violence. Themes introduced here recur in other stories throughout the book (dwarves seem to be an obsession, along with squid and fungus), as well as a surprising revelation as to who the narrator actually is...
"The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris" is exactly what the title implies - a history of Ambergris written by Duncan Shriek (who turns out to be important in the novel _Finch_ .. which I read first.) It is filled with snarky & hilarious footnotes which hint at another story which the author knows but is not telling...
"The Transformation of Martin Lake" tells an eerie story of events surrounding the death of the great Ambergris composer Voss Bender as they relate to a painter named Martin Lake. The story is interspersed with excerpts from an art-historical/critical essay about Lake's paintings, written by gallery curator Janice Shriek (sister of historian Duncan Shriek.) VanderMeer's ability to ape the art-historian's academic writing style is impressive.
"The Strange Case of X" is an internally self-referential story narrated in first and third person (by the same character) about a writer imprisoned within his own fictional world.
The second half of the book is the "AppendiX" which contains an assortment of short stories, notes, letters and pamphlets (including a glossary of Ambergris and a hilarious treatise on the subject of giant freshwater squid) supposedly left behind by X sometime after the events described in "The Strange Case of X." By turns funny and gruesome, these collected fragments build up the mythology of Ambergris.
Rarely have I seen an imaginary world so completely and meticulously conceived. Most are only as detailed as the immediate story requires, so I had no idea Ambergris had this much legitimate depth to it. Having read _Finch_ first (and therefore already knowing what the fungoid "gray caps" are planning) did not diminish my enjoyment. In fact, probably knowing that there was a point to all of this increased my enjoyment. Otherwise what we have here is an extended exercise in world-building. The stories, taken individually, are interesting .. cumulatively they are impressive .. but in a narrative sense they lead nowhere. This book lays the groundwork for the subsequent Ambergris novels, _Shriek: An Afterword_ and _Finch_. In itself, considering its nature as a collection of short works, it has no overarching plot - which may frustrate some readers. But there are threads that tie all of this material together.
VanderMeer is a chameleon, able to mimic a variety of literary voices & styles. This book is a veritable puzzle-box full of clever tricks, self-referential pranks and hoaxery, vivid description and narrative irony .. His prose sparkles, giving the impression of complete control while leaving much to deduce & infer. _City of Saints and Madmen_ requires some patience from the reader but I found it immensely rewarding. Seldom do I find a book both witty AND disturbing. I will count it among my favorites from now on.
It wasn't until two years later that, finding myself at a low point, I finally picked it up.
I must say, you can't do much better for escapism than the exquisitely rendered city setting of this book. In this collection, Jeff Vandermeer writes the history of Ambergris through the vaguely intertwined stories within.
The stories are beautifully written and stand perfectly well on their own, but as a collection, they highlight the hauntingly believable city. Landmarks and cultural figures are casually strewn throughout, and the way they seem so natural is one of the reasons the city comes so thoroughly to life. Vandermeer manages to insert them in a way that is effortless and imparts part of the cultural experience of Ambergris to the reader without forcing it. For example, in the first story, "Dradin, In Love," the main character notices a Voss Bender piece being played. Throughout the stories, it becomes clear that Voss Bender is Ambergris's most beloved composer and cultural icon. This knowledge is imparted in such a way that when a later character comes face-to-face with the esteemed composer, my first reaction was to be a bit star-struck and shocked. I had seen this sort of realization attempted by other authors in the past, but this is the first time that it didn't feel like a gimmick.
It is the same with the mysterious others inhabiting the city, the fungal Graycaps. They are introduced as merely part of city life in the first story. The second story, "The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris" is exactly what it says on the tin, and brings to light the crucial mystery of the Graycaps to the city's past and future. As the book winds on, they take on an implacably ominous tone, although their appearances are seldom even tenuously connected to the conflict at hand.
The characters are rich and have unique voices (even Duncan Shriek, the author to whom the Hoegbotton Guide is attributed, comes to life through his numerous footnotes). The fact that the writing seems drastically different from one story to the next, and that many of the works are attributed to characters within the world makes the book all the more immersive. Of course, the most important character is the city itself. The other two books in the Ambergris cycle, Shriek: An Afterword and Finch , tell the rest of the city's story, and are also well worth reading.
I'm beginning to ramble. The quick and dirty: the star of the show is the city of Ambergris, which Vandermeer expertly brings to life. The setting is a strange one, yet it comes through the book as naturally as our own world comes in contemporary fiction. It is truly one of my most treasured books. Buy it or borrow it, but find a way to read this gem.
Top reviews from other countries
The first story is a delight, beautifully written and it slowly introduces the reader to the unusual city that is Ambergris. The story is that of an outsider who falls in love with a woman in a window, and the way that he tries to get her to notice him and reciprocate his love, against a backdrop of a very strange culture.
The second is the story of the origins of the city, written long after the event, with numerous footnotes and scathing comments about the interpretations put on events by the writer's fellow academics/competitors. This is where the mushroom dwellers role in Ambergris is considered, although even so they remain a shady presence.
The third story is the story of a painting, told through the story of the artist from different sources. Each source seems to have a slightly more or less accurate appreciation of the actual events, as revealed by the central narrative. Another outsider, a struggling artist, who is unwittingly pulled centre stage. The story is a little slow to unwind but has some beautiful images within it.
The final story explores the potential links between our real world of Chicago and the imaginary world of Ambergris, through the interrogation of X. I found this the least satisfactory of the four stories, perhaps because there was less room for the delights of Vandermeer's writing, and perhaps because after a little while the outcome becomes rather predictable.
And then there is the AppendiX, which are the writings that X has in his possession in the fourth story. Some of them are interesting and humorous, but parts are rather self-indulgent; do we really need an annotated bibliography of writings about the King Squid that goes on for twenty-odd pages. It's a generalisation I know, but when a book suddenly starts using different fonts I think that it's a bit of a danger signal. There are different fonts and page borders aplenty in the AppendiX.
The frustration comes because each piece of work opens a tiny window onto the big picture that is Ambergris, but ultimately all you have are several tiny windows showing certain aspects in greater or lesser detail, but the full picture remains hidden. Imagine a vast picture over which someone has positioned an advent calendar. Each story opens a window, but by the time you've finished the book you have only revealed a tiny fraction of the picture.
So I suppose what I'm saying is that I want more about Ambergris, I want to know more about the people who live and work there, not just a few outsiders and fanatics. I want to hear about different areas, different roads, the harbour and the government.
I suppose that this would have been an absolutely cracking third or fourth book about Ambergris, had the earlier books put the basic city in place. Since those earlier books don't exist it is really frustrating. But it is also really good.
Update - I have now discovered Shriek: An Afterword and Finch which are set in Ambergris and follow on from this collection of stories. Finch especially is an intriguing cocktail of a book, but I haven't finished Shriek yet. Reviews will follow in the respective places.