Simon Jimenez, The Vanished Birds, Titan, 2020.
The Vanished Birds will take you away in an intricately built far future, you'll travel from planet to planet. But the most important in this novel, isn't what happens to the characters, it's the characters themselves.
On a rural planet, a boy is found after the crash of something which fell from the sky. When the people who buy their crops every decade or so arrive in their space ship, they give the boy to them, to take away to the central authority. But Nia, the captain of the ship, begins to care for the boy.
I guess everyone will see something different in The Vanished Birds. To me, it was a book about belonging: where you want to belong, where you are stuck despite hoping for somewhere else, how you create the place you belong to, and also when you're not ready to commit to belonging.
The Vanished Birds weaves beautifully many threads, though the main one is the story of Nia, the captain of the freighter, who becomes the mother figure of the boy. Those two find each other, care for each other, and they create a family, with the other crew members, in which the boy will grow.
And then there's Fumiko. She designed the space stations that saved humanity. She designed the space stations that means that now most humans kind of belong to the corporation owning them. Fumiko who is thousand of years old, but who made a choice, back on Earth, and never really belonged anymore. But does she still care?
The characters are the heart of the novel, and Jimenez draws amazingly complex and subtle characters, all entirely alive, with their flaws and beauty and stubborness.
I also loved the prose. It's unabashedly not constrained by anglo-american prose standards, and varies the points of view from one paragraph to the other, following an object as it passes from hand to hand to carry us from one character to the other. It is both full of melancholy and joy.
In the darkest moments of the novel, the writing will give you an incredible emotional ride as you rage and despair for the characters.
Finally, the plot seems deceptively simple: who is the boy? But around this question, Jimenez has built an incredibly rich world, full of planets to explore, and with rot at its core that will spread.
The Vanished Birds is a remarkable novel thanks to its prose and to the relationships of the characters that you'll deeply care about. The melancholy tones feel like life itself.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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