Notes on: Borne – Jeff Vandermeer

Books grow on you. They are picked up in the wilderness of bookshelves and past trees, and call us, readers, avid, hungry readers, with beautiful colours. We hunt what is prey, we scavenge if we are prey.

And they grow on you. They have to. It’s a communication thing. Just as with people, one does not know of their fears and loves and desires in the moment of first meeting. There is discovery, nurture, polish, teaching and learning. It develops limbs, and scents, and viscera, and agency.

And sometimes agency is rough, uncivilized, too green, too new, needs air to breath, to be put in the decanter to mature. Sometimes, and I think that time was that time, I, the scavenger, was the green one.

Borne grew one me, more than most books had done before. I knew of Annihilation, Jeff’s more famous novels, the concepts, and maybe what I would find. But I simply wasn’t ready. Three times I started reading. Three times I went with Rachel to Mord’s fur and found Borne.

Three times I was introduced to the Balcony Cliffs, and the devastated city. The first time, Borne had eaten some lizards, and I left. The second, Rachel and Borne left to see the city by themselves.

And by the third time, then I understood what Borne meant.

The three attempts of reading this book happened last year, a year of changes, of urgency, and of miscommunication. Safety and security were challenged, universal and world changing powers were being misused by pretenders, magicians without magic, and people would put themselves at risk to survive and to protect. Throughout the year, I tried to make my mind wander, and focus on a story far from this world. Science-fiction, fantasy, alternative reality, the truth was, stories are not simply escapism, but conduits of reality. And I didn’t know how much I needed Borne until I made my way through it. Their stress, their fears, and their will to survive. As I said, this is not a review, is a recollection. A memory stamp, a reality I was able to share with the author. This is not a book about a monster that tyrants over a devastation; this is not a book about an alien species that encounters the hero and go on adventures; this is not a book about the end of the world; this is a story of nature, nurture, growth, and communication.

Borne is about strangeness becoming normal, is about identity in a sea of sameness, and uniqueness in a storm of survivalism. Borne is found by Rachel, the scavenger, in the fur of the sleepy Mord, the tyrant, flying bear, who oversees the whole region surrounding the mysterious Company. She brings it home, cares or it, teaches it, loves it, and imprints her own understanding of life into Borne. Borne, the novel, is about findings, about reaching for things to care, and for things beyond simply surviving in a world full of things that want to kill you.

Borne is also about memory, and identification, and belonging. Throughout the book, we spend time with Rachel, Wick, and Borne. All of them are aspects of memory and recollection. Rachel, is the present, is living and surviving, is administering the drips of ideas and ideals she has into her day-to-day life in the Balcony cliffs. She hunts and is hunted, she feeds and is fed, she reigns in the locomotion of the current time.

Wick, on the other hand, is the past, chewing and masticating in what has been and what could have been. His life before the cliffs, his connections with the Magician, with Mord, with the fish project, with the Company, with what Rachel was, or used to be. Wick dwells into the realm of possibilities, adapting and readjusting to the present, but strung tightly to a past he cannot, and do not want to, forget.

And Borne, the future, the beyond our time and comprehension. Borne is a being of many types of purity. The purity of time, as he is of no time before, and all time forward. The purity of mind, as his own goal is to learn and absorb everything he can chew. And a purity of feelings, as he wishes to be the adopted, unusual, if not weird, house plant Rachel found in a less than unusual day, but he pushes himself and other off, as his instinct is stronger than his will. What is Borne’s future if not learning and chewing?

Borne is also an essay in communication and learning. The interactions between Rachel and Borne, between Wick and Borne, between Borne and creatures of the outside, and Rachel and Wick, those are parts of a comprehensive lecture on the language of meaning and of learning.

Rachel spends most of her time with Borne acting as a surrogate parent, caring for his health and safety, but also his mind. The ways Borne pick on words, themes, concepts, and ideas, and digest all that, ingesting and growing through it, is child-like until it becomes clear that he is not a child, only for those bonds to be even more visible, more agents of Borne’s and Rachel’s behaviours, behaviours of things lost, and things not yet made.

Borne is also a tale of accountability, of trust, and of truths, known and not known. What is the Company? What happened to Mord? Why does the magician know so much about Rachel? The weight put on Wick’s shoulders, and the past that keeps hunting and hurting him day after day, because of his own acts, of his determination to leave the company behind, the projects, his friends, and his will to save and protect a thing, a girl, a person, to break that person, and let her go. Wick is the idea of past haunting. The magician holds him, Rachel holds him in her own way, and Borne held and pushed him in his own way. The will to stand down and safe, breached by the present that he brought in, and the future that she brought back. Beyond the discussion of morality and ethics, there is the subject of trust. Of trust built, of trust broken, and of trust remade new.

“I prefer the old betrayals, the ones based on trust. My presence beside him tells him all he needs to know, and no matter what else he has done in his life, Wick has never killed anyone with a rock. Nor does Wick sell memories anymore” Rachel.

And more than a theme, Borne poses a question, that in a way or another, encompasses all other subjects. What is a person? Is a human a person? What makes something conditional of being seen as a person? For Rachel, persons are things that care, that think, that act and react on their own agency, and are things that love and remember. For her, Borne is a person, even though Borne himself questions it up until the end of his story. Is he good enough to be a person? Does a person need to be good, or bad?

Borne is a story that grabbed me and brought it to the labyrinths of the city, and then nurture you, teaches you how to communicate, how to understand, how to survive, and how to perceive the reverberations of a larger universe of beings that made home and turf in the desolated remains of a burned past.

Some ideas at first glance seemed like random flavour, information to simply fill and enrich the story. But in the end, Jeff Vandermeer, like a gardener, collects the fruits of his workd and gives to the reader the plentifulness of his orchard, and feeds our journey to the belly of monsters, of Mords, and of Bornes.

Borne is a book that it took its time to grow on me, but patience, care, and the guiding but yet distant hand of the author, makes this journey an experience of communication, learning, and the nature of what a person is.

Check Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer on Amazon

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