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City of Saints and Madmen (Ambergris)
City of Saints and Madmen (Ambergris)
by Jeff VanderMeer
Edition: Paperback

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insanely Ambitious, Divinely Delicious, 24 Mar. 2005
On the surface, City of Saints and Madmen is a collection of short stories set in the fantastic city of Ambergris, stories suffused with sorrow and wry humour, some of them straightforward, others told through various metafictional conceits and devices. On the surface, we have four novellas and an appendix of sundry shorter delights. But apart from the fact that each story is an absolute nugget in its own right, there's much more going on here in the way these tales relate to each other. As the novellas progress, various fake historical glossaries, academic footnotes and art history interpolations are used to make Ambergris far more rounded and real than most fantasy backdrops, building VanderMeer's city of musicians, poets and sinister mushroom-dwellers in the reader's imagination until in the last of the four novellas we are taken right through the looking glass. In an insanely ambitious move reminiscent of Alasdair Gray's Lanark, or a writer such as Borges, fact and fiction are flipped inside-out and the reader is plunged deep into a world all the truer because it is given to us through the artefacts of Ambergris --illustrated chapbooks, monograms, bibliographies, magazine clippings or lunatic's notes. Metafiction can be tricky in its tricksiness, but VanderMeer pulls it off wonderfully. In a way this becomes a novel with the reader himself as the protagonist, a traveller wandering through VanderMeer's strange, dark, literary vision. And, lit with flashes of sheer brilliance, VanderMeer's Ambergris is more than just worth a visit. This is a must-read book, a delightful treat for the fan of fantasy as a genre, for those who enjoy Angela Carter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or any of the Magic Realists. In the end this book is for anyone who likes their books intelligent, playful, comic, tragic and with a vision just a wee bit skewed from the norm.

Wig In A Box
Wig In A Box

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Long Story Short, 30 Jan. 2004
This review is from: Wig In A Box (Audio CD)
OK, so if you're a full-on fan of either the stage show or the movie, you probably don't care about any review; You're going to buy this album anyway. I know my first response on hearing of this album's existence was "Must have now!". The idea of Ben Folds doing a cover of Wicked Little Town is something to drool over, and the Polyphonic Spree have just the right exuberance to lift the sing-a-long Wig In A Box up to the sunshine-filled skies... so you'd think. But I have to admit, I found this hit and miss, with both of these songs just a tad disappointing (Wicked Little Town could have been truly superb stripped down to just piano and voice, but it comes across as a little too busy to my mind, while Wig In A Box just doesn't quite go stratospheric in that trademark Polyphonic Spree way). Sure, there are some small sparkly gems in here, like The Breeders' version of Wicked Little Town or Frank Black's psychobilly Sugar Daddy. The two Origin Of Love's work well, and Spoon's Tear Me Down has a great Bowiesque vocal. Even Cyndi Lauper's Midnight Radio has a sort of wacky majesty that works. But there's also a fair bit of dross here. The dancy remixed Freaks and Nailed leave me dead cold. That may just be personal taste though; the main problem is that songs that should grab you just, well, don't. Much as I like They Might Be Giants, they don't seem to bring anything distinctly theirs to The Long Grift, and the new songs - Milford Lake and City Of Women - aren't nearly as memorable as the songs from the show. The Yoko Ono version of Exquisite Corpse, as flat emotionally as it is musically, has to be the low point of the album. Makes Nico sound good. Sorry, but this is a fire-fuelled punk rock song with a nervous breakdown at the climax, fer cryin out loud, and Yoko's ho-hum delivery renders it as lacklustre as a builder with depression on a tea break whose soggy digestive just collapsed into his cup. In contrast, the Angry Inch by Fred Schneider and Sleater-Kinney shows the way it should be done, kicking it out with a sound that's true to the original and true to the '70's punk that inspired it (and a little reminiscent of the modern take on that sound coming out of bands like the Distillers or the Yeah Yeah Yeah's). Less Nico. More Karen O. So is the album worth it? Well, it's for a good cause and there's enough good stuff on here to merit a listen. I wouldn't say don't buy it. Just don't expect too much.

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