A darkly imaginative story of magical realism set in and around a forest with mystical powers.
The Vorrh is a timeless, trackless forest haunted by deformed creatures that might once have been angels, or demons. Humans can’t spend much time in it without losing their memories, possibly even their souls, but one man is setting out to walk across it. Another has been hired to kill him. Meanwhile, a world-weary Frenchman hopes to find some true magic inside the forest’s vastness; a photographer tries to use his science to capture mysteries like time and passion; a slave driver and a surgeon work to harness the forest’s power through dark experiments; and, in the heart of the city that sits uneasily next to the forest, a cyclops raised by Bakelite robots waits to meet the outside world. The book is packed with striking images, and there are many moments of real beauty and power. But the plot wanders, and the image-rich language balances on the edge of being overwritten. The characters are memorable grotesques, but as original as this book is, it still uses Africa, and black women in particular, as metaphorical stand-ins for wildness and sensuality in a way that feels wearyingly familiar.
Certainly unusual, sometimes powerful, this book nevertheless doesn't quite succeed thanks to its murky, roundabout plot and over-rich language.