In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.
At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.
Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.
It’s taken me a while to figure out how to review this book because it’s just so very strange and wonderful and it has a lot to say but I’m not entirely sure all the time of what exactly that is. But it’s a book that made me think and for that, I love it.
I’ll be honest–I’m not that smart. A lot of times when I read more literary types of books like this one, I feel like a lot of the themes go right over my head. And that’s probably true here too, but one thing that rings through very clear in this story is the author’s feelings about the natural world and the environment. Here’s an imagined future where the seas have risen and the natural world has been invaded by bio-engineered creatures. What exactly has caused the disaster that has led to the destruction of civilization and the decline of humanity isn’t super clear–but it feels as if it wasn’t any one thing but rather a culmination of bad decisions made over time that have led to this inevitable conclusion. I think one of the other themes is humanity, represented here by Rachel. She finds Borne, a small blob of biotech, and raises him like her child, teaches him, loves him. Borne is not human. He’s the furthest thing from human. And yet Rachel tries to teach him to be human, to varying degrees of success. Rachel and Borne’s relationship is the heart of this book.
Like I said, there’s a lot about this story that I just don’t get, but that’s okay because I still had a great time reading it! It’s so very strange. And the strange things are my jam. I keep asking how did humanity get to where its at where Rachel and Wick live near The Company? Things seemed somewhat ‘normal’ in Rachel’s childhood flashbacks. Normal except a mostly broken down society decaying fast. But there are things that just don’t make sense in Rachel and Wick’s time in the present. The whole mythology around Mord and even Mord himself. Some kind of giant bear god that comes now and then and causes destruction among the remaining people. Also that things like Borne are just accepted. He’s just a blob. And then he grows and changes into….everything. The world itself is weird, as is society and the way Rachel and Wick live. But the strangest things may just be how they accept this weirdness and are so unruffled by it. What happened in this world?
This book put me very much in mind with Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. It’s tough not to compare the two since they are similar in some ways–post apocalyptic stories featuring genetic engineering gone wrong. I will say that one thing I loved about Borne compared to Atwood’s series is that there’s more humor and whimsy. If you follow VanderMeer on social media at all you probably won’t be surprised by the humor in this book because it seems to be so much a part of his personality. It’s a great balance to rather serious nature of the world he’s presented us with here. VanderMeer also presents us with more questions and mystery–he’s not an author that hands you answers on a silver platter. Even when he does give you answers, they’re not necessarily the answers you want and also leave you with more questions in the end.
Overall, I thought this was a really great read, even if I probably didn’t get it all the time. It’s a book I’m still thinking about even after a month after reading it, so that has to count for something. I also loved how much heart this weird little story had to it. 4.5/5 stars.
13 thoughts on “Book Review: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer”
Great review! I’ve seen a few reviews of Vandermeer’s books in the last few months and although the concepts of the books really intrigue me, I’m getting the feeling that they might not be for me 😂 Like you said at the start, usually the themes go right over my head and I end up feeling insanely confused! Lol. Glad to hear you ended up enjoying this one with its weirdness though!
Yeah, totally get that! I’m not often in the mood for books like this but I do like them once in a while. Even if I don’t always understand everything they do make me think and that can be fun now and then haha. Also, I love weird stuff!
I read this a couple of years again and remember feeling that it was really good… but I’d had no idea what was going on for most of it. But still liked it, aha! I’m glad I’m not the only one that felt like that. Great review!
Yeah, that’s pretty much my exact experience LOL! Also glad I’m not alone haha. Thanks!
VanderMeer is on another plain than the rest of us, lol. His books are challenging but so quirky and magical. Borne was my absolute favorite book the year it came out (2018?) but I DNF’d his last book, Dead Astronauts. Go figure!
LOL, he is at that hahaha. He’s a very weird guy but also sincere and passionate about nature and all that comes through here. I’d like to try more of his stuff. I do have Dead Astronauts in my TBR, hopefully I am in the right mood for it whenever I get to it lol. 🙂
This sounds so weird, but so good? Haha themes usually go over my head too, but this sounds like it might be worth the extra brainpower lol. Great review💜
Yes, it was very weird but I liked it! I think it’s one of those books you just have to relax and let yourself go with it and try not to think too hard about what it means until you’re done with it. 🙂
This book has been on my radar for quite some time, but I never added it to my reading queue because of the inherent weirdness transpiring from the reviews I read: not that I have anything against weirdness, granted, but it sounded… well, weirder than average. Now that I’ve read your comparison with Atwood’s Madaddam series I have a much clearer picture – and less qualms about adding it to my TBR 🙂
Thanks for sharing!!!!
Yeah, I think if you liked MaddAddam, you’ll probably enjoy this one. Just don’t expect to get an explanation for things haha. 🙂
Definitely not an author for everyone but I’ve loved a couple of his books, this one included. Like you, I’m not always sure I’m picking up on everything but it still worked for me.
Yeah, I’m really curious to check out some of his other stuff now. I’m glad I was finally able to dip my toes in. 🙂