In Memory of Bob: The Vorrh

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About a year ago, a coworker named Bob handed me this book and told me to keep it as a parting gift. At the time, I had made some stupidly grandiose plan to drop everything and move out of state. Instead, my car broke down in the middle of flat-nothing-Kansas, and a small town guy towed me to a small town hotel. (Savings, gone!)

A week later, I ended up at my ex’s family reunion in Galveston. They weren’t a big, warm family, so I had a pile of books with me. The Vorrh by B. Catling was among them. I had read a few pages in a hammock, but I mostly ruminated over my failure.

And then, I got a call. Bob had passed away. My hands found this book, and I turned it over a few times. The parting gift felt heavier, and I wanted to consume every word in memory of Bob, that voracious reader. (His twin brother told us on Facebook that he read 4 books a month and kept a list of every book he had read since college. He was reading number 1,906!)

I read The Vorrh in two days with the occasional red ant biting my toes and the sun searing my skin. What an appropriate way to read a book about a sentient African forest that consumes two of humanity’s most precious measures of reality: time and memory.

I have always had trouble describing the plot because it feels too intricate. This time, I will quote the back cover.

Next to the colonial town of Essenwald sits the Vorrh, a vast—perhaps endless—forest. It is a place of demons and angels, of warriors and priests. Sentient and magical, the Vorrh bends time and wipes  memory. Legend has it that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now, a renegade English soldier aims to be the first human to traverse its expanse. Armed with only a strange bow, he begins his journey, but some fear the consequences of his mission, and a native marksman has been chosen to stop him. Around them swirl a remarkable cast of characters, including a Cyclops raised by robots and a young girl with tragic curiosity, as well as historical figures, such as writer Raymond Roussel and photographer and Edward Muybridge.  While fact and fictional blend, and the hunter will become the hunted, and everyone’s fate hangs in the balance, under the will of the Vorrh.

I have read criticisms of The Vorrh that say Catling tries too hard to create symbols, to create gorgeous descriptions, to make it complex. I disagree. I think it is highly imaginative and executed quite well. Catling’s prose is sybaritic and dark, giving the story a suitable sense of power and life. He captures the essence of the forest he created, and I relished every sentence.

This is a book to get lost in. Thank you, Bob.

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