Borne

by Jeff Van­der­Meer, 4th Es­tate, £8.99

The Guardian - Review - - Charts - Neel Mukher­jee

Van­der­Meer’s strange, bril­liant novel ex­tends his med­i­ta­tion on the cen­tral ques­tion of non-hu­man sen­tience. The alien in­tel­li­gence in the South­ern Reach tril­ogy, seen in the film ver­sion An­ni­hi­la­tion, was ca­pa­ble of pro­found bio­chem­i­cal mimicry that shone a harsh light on the prim­i­tive na­ture of hu­man cog­ni­tion. Now, splic­ing to­gether the DNAs of Godzilla and Franken­stein’s mon­ster, we have Borne.

In a world laid waste by a biotech com­pany, a mas­sive fly­ing bear is ter­ror­is­ing sur­vivors. These in­clude hu­mans, mu­tants and hy­brid crea­tures. Rachel res­cues a crea­ture “like a hy­brid of sea anemone and squid” and chris­tens him Borne.

Borne is truly pro­tean; he can mimic his sur­round­ings and other crea­tures. It turns out that hu­man sys­tems of knowl­edge are not the only things he ab­sorbs.

No one writes a postapoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape like Van­der­Meer, so de­tailed and strange in its lin­ea­ments and to­pog­ra­phy, a waste­land and yet seething with the weird­est flora, fauna and biotech. His re­cent work has been Ovid­ian in its un­der­pin­nings, ex­plor­ing the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of life forms and the seams be­tween them.

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