Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Borne-HPThis novel is about a shape shifting super intelligent vanilla smelling Groot and a giant lethal Bear whose favourite pass time, other than flying, is terrorizing an already ruined city. I did not make that up. And with a premise as ridiculous as, maybe, that of Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, Borne was surprisingly heartwarming. I did not make that up too.

Apocalypse and its aftermath are rather obscure in novel’s first person reticent narrative. Like the fallout setting of, say, Metro 2033, world is recovering from or accepting its fate of being a bio-technical wasteland. Most of its inhabitants are Frankenstein-ish in appearance and have traceable origins to a biotech corporate known to readers only as ‘The Company’. And in what appears to be a menagerie of hybrid transgenic beings and discarded experiments, the King or Kong is a ridiculously enormous Bear named ‘Mord’. VanderMeer scales Mord to multistorey buildings, and though it often inflicts destruction along its way, many of city’s inhabitants consider Mord as their Lord and Savior. During a scavenging operation, our protagonist Rachel finds baby Borne on Mord’s furries. Rachel’s boyfriend, Wick suspects Borne of being a bio-weapon, but she decides to raise it as her pet and soon develops a mother-child bond between them. Book doesn’t offer clear definitions or explanations for what Borne is, and like Borne itself, readers are kept in the existential crisis of assigning identity for sentient beings outside humanity. I have mixed feelings about the novel as a whole, but I loved Borne and the beautifully prosed dynamics between him and Rachel, and Rachel and Wick.

Jeff-with-bear-and-bear
Jeff VanderMeer during one of his promotional tours.

Everything is more or less a priori in this narrative and it often succumbs to the genre cliches like dictatorship of corporate, romanticizing past glory, mulling over the greenery, morality etc. But rather than glorifying the apocalyptic SuperGod perspective, VanderMeer develops the story through the insignificants- people who are caught in the crossfire. Unlike the evil Company or levitating Mord or the resistance leader Magician, Rachel and Wick are expendable humans whose primary concern is staying alive than the outcome of events in grand scale. Consider them as the ones whose buildings, cars and tax money get destroyed in cliched Superhero battles under the rhetoric of ‘saving the day’. I adored the relationship between Rachel and Borne, and their life in Balcony Cliffs till the point it turned dark. From there on I mostly read Borne’s child like dialogues in Tommy Wiseau’s voice to reduce the uneasiness.

200To Rachel, Borne was a ‘mirror and window and scene that kept changing’, and to Borne, Rachel was the only way to perceive a world it can hardly comprehend. Borne has a congenital weakness that goes again the general notions of morality, and with a ruined city as the frame of reference Rachel finds it difficult to raise him like a normal person. While Borne was trying to make sense of the world through Rachel, she was trying to make sense of Borne. His child like curiosity and misplaced instinctual priorities were off the usual societal reservations for any usual observer except Rachel. Many of those weirdly playful moments between them were adorable and managed to produce a smile on my face. In fact, the connection author made between Borne’s very first encounter with Mord proxies and his final Boss rush, in Rachel’s monologue, managed to make my eyes moist.

southern-reach-paperback-coversI must admit to treating Borne universe as an extension of Area X, and mentally, consciously or unconsciously, naming this story’s Umbrella Corporation as Southern Reach. And though it might not have been the smartest strategy for someone struggling to accept Acceptance, it did enhance the reading. Both employs a sempiternal narrative, but Borne was more limpid and less stolid in comparison. Also among many details, Wick being an ex company employee who engineers fish ponds (human-eyed dolphins of Annihilation), VanderMeer’s plant fixation and ‘southern’ base of company helped. Nevertheless, Brone offers something that Southern Reach deems luxury – a closure. It’s comprehensive towards the end and provides revelations that changes the way we read the novel and characters altogether, and might even break you in the process.

Borne, though lyrically masquerades itself as a final fantasy filled with parademon-ish miniature Mord proxies and obscure underground movements, is essentially about a mother and her coming in terms with the fact that her child is no longer a child. And it is beautiful.

Anyway, now I consider myself cleansed off Atwood’s pigoons filled abstract apocalypse by an even weirder, even abstract eco catastrophe involving the giant flying Bear and a glorified house plant.

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