The Vorrh – B. CatlingAuthor: Brian Catling
ISBN: 9780957142718 | 512 pages
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Prepare to lose yourself in the heady, mythical expanse of the Vorrh.
In B. Catling’s twisting, poetic narrative, Bakelite robots lie broken – their hard shells cracked by human desire – and an inquisitive cyclops waits for his keeper and guardian, growing in all directions. Beyond the colonial city of Essenwald lies the Vorrh, the forest which sucks souls and wipes minds. There, a writer heads out on a giddy mission to experience otherness, fallen angels observe humanity from afar, and two hunters – one carrying a bow carved from his lover, the other a charmed Lee-Enfield rifle – fight to the end.
Thousands of miles away, famed photographer Eadweard Muybridge attempts to capture the ultimate truth, as rifle heiress Sarah Winchester erects a house to protect her from the spirits of her gun’s victims.
In the tradition of China Miéville, Michael Moorcock and Alasdair Gray, B. Catling’s The Vorrh is literary dark fantasy which wilfully ignores boundaries, crossing over into surrealism, magic-realism, horror and steampunk.
“In the literature of the fantastic, almost lost beneath a formulaic lard of dwarves and dragons, it is only rarely that a unique voice emerges with a work of genuine vision to remind the genre of what it should be aspiring to and what it’s capable of doing: a Hope Hodgson, Mervyn Peake or David Lindsay; untamed talents who approach the field as if they’re the first sentient beings to discover it.
In Brian Catling’s phosphorescent masterpiece The Vorrh we have one of the most original and stunning works of fantasy that it has ever been my privilege to read, a brilliant and sustained piece of invention which establishes a benchmark not just for imaginative writing but for the human imagination in itself. After investigating other worlds of fantasy, exquisite little rock-pools with their own miniature ecospheres, The Vorrh is like a first experience of the ocean. Read this book, and marvel.”
Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell
“There are not many books that rearrange the molecules of your being, turning your eyes inside out. The Vorrh, this saturnine post-traumatic testament, is one of them. Malign ethnology, angelic codices, sump poetry and clownish viral comedy seethe and argue and interact in ways that are not just unlikely, but definitively impossible.
The heady, hallucinogenic prose comes at a rush. Pages turn themselves without pause: insomniac seizures, voices from deep anaesthesia, colonial scars and fossils returning to life. The book is a library of malpractice. Bakelite robots have souls. Trees talk. Ruined mansions ooze with the seepage of erotic dreams. Absurd humans, flinching and dumb, play out their preordained roles in a blasphemous collision between pre-literate grunts and a legendary narrative carved into brass. A work of idiocy and genius.”
Iain Sinclair, author of Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project and London Orbital
“It is far harder, however, to pick apart the truly great from the good. There is no steadfast formula to work from, and often no fathomable factor beyond one’s feelings. Be that as it may, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m inclined to look for beauty—and indeed, The Vorrh is a beautiful book. So too does a sense of intelligence prove paramount when separating the standard from the remarkable—and Brian Catling’s dark fantasy debut certainly has smarts.
But all other considerations pale, in my eyes, when compared with a book’s ability to surprise. To wit, take the following statement for the compliment it is, rather than the complaint it might be perceived to be: The Vorrh is an exceptionally shocking novel…
Equal parts dark fantasy and surrealist dream, it is inescapably dense, and unrelentingly intense. Shelve it shoulder to shoulder with 2012’s other most notable novels, be they of the genre or not, then consider carefully which stands lacking in comparison.”
Niall Alexander, Tor
“The Vorrh is the Ulysses of fantasy novels. Set in a world that seems magical and very real at the same time, The Hobbit this is not. The Vorrh of the title is a fictional forest, a vibrant backdrop for a story which struts across genres with confidence and style, the writing beautiful and poetic.”
Joel Harley, Starburst Magazine
“Thematically, it’s concerned with power and colonialism; with race and sexuality. With class and, in unexpected ways, education. With violence and the drive to dominate. Here as in many other aspects, Catling avoids making things explicit. What happens, happens. The individual characters are foregrounded. But in who those characters are, the experiences that shaped them and the assumptions they make, they reveal themselves and all the sociology you care to read into them…
And with all this said, am I any closer to finding a meaningful label for The Vorrh? You could call the book ‘magic realism,’ if you insist. But it feels different; magic surrealism, perhaps. But then ‘surrealism’ isn’t quite right, either, though you could certainly read it as a subversion of bourgeois rationalism. Still, there’s a coherent narrative in the book that belies the idea of surrealism. The unnatural here isn’t startling, not over time, as it becomes worked into a story, and so established as a part of what simply is. Given the violence in the book, the unsentimental sense of the human body as material upon which stresses work and shape it as they will, you could maybe call the book ‘epic horror.’ You could call it a lot of things, in the end; what it is, though, to me, is one of those books that can subtly rewrite and reimagine the world.”
Matthew David Surridge, Black Gate Magazine
“The Vorrh contains elements of steampunk, gothic horror, quest-based fantasy, alternative history and surreal nightmare. It even reclaims the African adventure story from traditional imperialist trappings. It plays with these literary traditions while refusing to be bound by their tropes, techniques or audience expectations. To suggest it calls for a redefinition of fantasy is excessive, but this idiosyncratic and strange story can recharge the most jaded of imaginations. Dare to visit the Vorrh.”
Andy Hedgecock, Interzone
“The Vorrh by Brian Catling is a great book, but arguably only for the niche of readers who understand its purpose and intentions. As the introduction by legendary comics author Alan Moore ably explains, The Vorrh is a fantasy novel stripped of the “formulaic lard of dwarves and dragons”. It’s a testament to the power of Tolkien’s epic fantasy in our modern culture that it was not just copied en masse by authors like Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks, but also deconstructed and repurposed by a string of authors including M John Harrison and China Miéville. The Vorrh is a worthy addition to the canon of anti-fantasy, independently published in a period of high conservatism among SF and fantasy imprints, which deserves to be fully considered alongside its contemporaries.”
Damien Walter, The Guardian
The bow I carried with me into the wilderness, I made of Este.
She died just before dawn, ten days before. She had seen her death while working in her garden, saw the places between plants where she no longer stood, an uncapping of momentum in the afternoon sun. She prepared me for what had to be done. Walking back into our simple house and removing her straw hat, returning it to its shadow and nail on the north wall.
She was born a seer and some part of her seeing lived in the expectancy of her departure, a breeze before a wave, before a storm. Seers die in a threefold lapse, from the outside in. The details and confinement of each infolding must be carefully marked and heard without panic or emotion on my part, for now I am given a different role. We say goodbye during the days leading to her night. Then all of my feelings must be put away; there are more important rituals to perform. All this I knew, from our first agreement to be together it had been described, it had been unfolded. Our love and companionship grew in the confines and the constantly open door of its demand, and secretly I rehearsed my distance and practiced the deceit of loneliness.
I stood before our solid wooden table with her blood drying stiff on my skin, her body divided and stripped into the materials and language. As I stood with my back and hands aching from the labour of splitting her apart, I could still hear her words. The calm instruction of my task repeated over and over again, embedded with a singsong insistence to erase my forgetfulness and its fence of doubt. The entire room is covered in blood, yet no insect will trespass this space, no fly will drink her, no ant will forage her marrow. We are sealed against the world during these days and my task is determined, basic and kind.
I have shaven long flat strips from the bones of her legs. I have plaited sinew and tendon, stretched muscle into interwoven pages. I have bound them with flax that she cut from the garden. I have made the bow of these, setting the fibres and grains of her tissue in opposition. The now raw arc will congeal, twist and shrink into its proportion of purpose. I have removed her unused womb and placed her dismembered hands inside it. Sealing closed the misshapen ball that sometimes moves a little in its settling. I have shaved her head and removed her tongue and eyes; they are now folded inside her heart.
When my tasks are finished, I place the nameless objects on the wooden draining board of the sink. They sit in mute splendour glowing in their strangeness, which is untouched by any criminal light. What remains on the table and floor is simply waste and I will leave it for the wild dogs when I leave this place with all its doors and windows open. But for now I will live with the inventions of her and the unused scraps, closed in this hut for another three days. The air is scented by her presence, the musk deep smell of her oil and movement. The pile of her thick unwashed hair seems to breathe and swell against the bars of sunlight that turn the room towards evening. These known parts of her stroke aware the anxious perfumes; the harsh metallic iron of her blood and the deeper saturated smoulders of her unlocked interior. On the third day I will bury her heart, womb and head in the garden in a small circular pit that she dug with her very hands a week ago. She explained this to me while I served her breakfast in a rare rainy morning. The black bread and yellow butter seemed to stare out of its plate with mocking intensity, the fruit pulsed and warped into obscene ducts and ventricles, vivid in innocence at every direct glance. I perched on the edge of the bed listening to her simple words glide and agree with the rain while my fear ignited them into petrol wires of ferocious anger that were stuffed into my oxygenless hidden core.
I buried the compass of her and covered it with a heavy stone. I obeyed with perfection, tearless and quiet. I picked up the arrow that she had made and walked back into the house for the last time.
The bow quickened in astonishing time. Twisting and righting itself as the days and the nights pulled and manipulated its contours. There was a likeness to Este’s changing during her dying, although that transition had nothing in common with all the deaths I had witnessed and participated in before.
With Este an outward longing marked all, like sugar absorbing moisture and salt releasing it. Every hour of the three days rearranged her with fearsome and compelling difference. Every physical memory of her body, from childhood onwards floated to the surface of her beautiful frame. Every gesture that had evolved into her grace found its origin and almost joyfully puppeted its awkwardness through her. Every thought found its way through her bones and exhaled waves of shadow from a deep ocean floor, rising into sunlight and dispersing, meeting the decay that was closing in.
I could not leave her. I sat or laid next to her, fascinated and horrified, aroused and entranced as the procession gently disgorged. Her eyes waxed and waned memory, pale transparency to flinted fire. She was dimly aware of me, but able to instruct and explain the exactitude of the process. She did this to dispel my anxiety and pain, also to confront the ecstasy of her control. In the evening of the third day the memory in dream began to show itself. It refined our time together, the constancy of her presence. Since we left her village we had never been apart, except for those strange weeks when she asked me to stay inside while she dwelt in the garden day and night. When she returned she was thin and strained. I held her close for three days until she fully returned.
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