book-reviews

The Vorrh

by Brian Catling

Rating: ★★★

The Vorrh is a forest, dark and brooding, giving off a sense of mystery and of timeless, biblical depth. Yet for those who disregard the warnings about its deadly powers of entrancement and befuddlement and dare to venture into its depths, it eventually becomes clear that there is no forest, and there is nothing but a barren landscape at the heart of all this glamour.

Catling's writing is entertaining and beguiling, laying out some mysteries and a rich flavour of the latter days of colonial rule. Bush magic flavours a loose knot of characters circling the forest, with tones of Kipling, Lovecraft and Garcia-Marquez all bubbling away beneath the surface in the atmosphere built up as we watch the Bowman take his journey and ponder Ishmael, designed by whom, for what we do not know.

Yet it is shallow in the same way as 1Q84 or many more typical modern novels. When the sequence of events is played out, we find that it is only that, a sequence of events. Those mysteries broadcast from the beginning are not resolved or even properly left unresolved. Several characters seem only to play their few roles before stepping away to mean nothing, to have their arc fall flat. One character who is alloted a hefty pagecount has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the others, except in a very tenuous allegorical sense. There is no heart to this story, no binding. It is an author's dream sequence stitched together on paper, and the skill of its execution only makes this fact more bitter.

For those who find more joy in the detached tale, the sequence of events without a driving power, this novel might become a favourite. But don't go searching for meaning.