It is said that jetlag is the effect of the traveller’s soul lagging behind the body.
A European city, “Essenwald” is transferred stone by stone and reassembled in Africa, at the edge of the Vorrh. One train track goes into “the abyss of the Vorrh”, “the mother of forests; ancient beyond language, older than every known species, and, some said, propagator of them all, locked in its own system of evolution and climate. The banded foliage and vast trees that breathed its rich air offered much to humans but could also devour a thousand of their little lives in a microsecond of their uninterrupted, unfathomable time. So vast was its acreage, it also made its demands of time, splitting the toiling sun into zones outside of normal calibration; a theoretical traveller, passing through its entire breadth on foot, would have to stop at its centre and wait at least a week for his soul to catch up.” The Vorrh tolerates Essenwald, which relies on the forest for is timber trade The timber workers or ‘Limboia’ “had transformed into other beings, beings devoid of purpose, identity or meaning. In the beginning…the forest itself had devoured their memory and resurrected them as addicts“.
In a mysterious house an apparently orphaned boy lives, a boy called, of course, Ismael. His teachers and carers are creatures composed of a kind of cream, who are encased in smooth, brown, bakelite, humanoid skins. And it gets stranger from there. The real and the fantastic intermingle, history is bent to Catling’s purposes to rich and perplexing effect. The Vorrh is over-written, self-indulgent and difficult to follow. The reader’s questions are sometimes answered with “it’s just magic”. But it is a marvellous, admirable and curious work of imaginative fiction, and we commend it to you. If you are interested in miraculous eyeballs kept in the underarms of man-eating monsters and 19th century optics, this is the book for you. If you can’t abide reading about creepy sex and torturers with the faces of balloons, don’t go into the Vorrh tonight. We at The Varnished Culture would like to know more of the mysterious forces who drive Ismael’s development and whether the various strings of narrative come together. The second book in the trilogy, The Erstwhile, is due in early March and we will review it here, while keeping meticulous account of our souls.