The Vorrh by B Catling book review

High brow sci-fi is the order of the day in B Catling’s The Vorrh

The Vorrh

Set your brow to high before reading The Vorrh. Its author, B Catling, is a poet-sculptor-performance artist-professor, it’s dedicated to acclaimed author Iain Sinclair, and has a foreword by comic-book god Alan Moore.

Fans of Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen might remember that in Volume 3: Century, Sinclair’s own time-travelling character Andrew Norton instructs Mina Murray to explore a forest, comparing it to ‘Catling’s Vorrh.’ Given this issue first appeared in 2009, it’ll give you some idea how long The Vorrh has been in the making.

In truth, the Vorrh is not Catling’s. It was a gigantic, magical jungle that first appeared in an obscure French surrealist novel called Impressions Of Africa. This same jungle provides roots for Catling’s own dark fantasy, which sprouts interweaving stories. A French dandy mounts an expedition into the Vorrh, and soon becomes lost; two men – one European, carrying a bow made from the bones of his lover, the other an African tribesman carrying a charmed rifle – fight to the death among the trees; a precocious young woman discovers a cyclops being raised by robots; 10,000 miles away, an Englishman becomes obsessed with photographing the wild Yukon.

These stories form an overarching mythology of human desires, with the jungle by turns representing an ancient Eden and a nightmare-filled undergrowth. The characters in each plot are fleshed out and feel fallibly human, while the tales themselves suck you in and surprise with each twist. If you value smart, challenging writing, prepare to enter The Vorrh.