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  1. #1
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    July 2009 BotM: Palimpsest by Catheryyne Valente

    This month's Book of the Month is a recently published one (February 2009). It was developed from a short story.

    Plot: Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse - a voyage permitted only to those who've always believed there's another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They've each lost something important - a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life - and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.


    Catheryyne is developing a fine reputation for her writing. Her visual style mature themes and illustrative vocabulary have brought her to many's attention.

    What did you think? As a first time reader of her work, is her reputation justified? If you have read previous work, is this one up to the seemingly high standard?

    Discuss!

    Mark
    Mark

  2. #2
    The only work of Valente's I'd previously read was The Orphan's Tale, and I thought Palimpsest was as good a book although less to my personal taste.

    To unpack that a little bit: I thought the grounding of the story in the real world held it back a bit; I much preferred the parts in Palimpsest itself where Valente's imagination cut loose completely. I also wasn't particularly engaged by using deliberate eroticism as the gimmick to get one into Palimpsest. (Though I will say about that, I was impressed that she treated the subject honestly; there are a lot of writers that would have come up with the idea and just used it as an excuse for blatant titillation.)

    In most other respects I liked it just as much as the Orphan's Tales books, the richness of language and characterization in particular.

  3. #3
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I'll have something to say about this one shortly. It came in the mail just after I left for a week vacation, so I didn't get to bring it along. Starting tonight.

  4. #4
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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    I found this very hard to get into, as I said in the Valente thread a while ago. I explained in it why it felt overtly feminine to me. It was entirely not to my taste. No characters that I identief with, despite the fact that more and more I enjoy reading some weirder and more left field Fantasy novels. Prose was just too thick.

    People who love reading flowery prose may well enjoy this though.

  5. #5
    I also found it rather difficult to get into - it is an obvious case of style overwhelming plot which usually isn't to my taste - but I persisted and it was worth it. The ending was surprisingly moving, considering that I didn't care for any of the characters very much. All in all, I liked it, though not as much as Orphan's Tales which I think was wonderful book (it was far more accessible as well).

  6. #6
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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    Not a great deal of responses sofar, he said euphemistically. How are people getting on with reading this one?

  7. #7
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    Maybe because people have already weighed in over here?

    I thought you had a very good conversation starter in that thread when you said "This is a book that feels extremely feminine to me."
    Does anyone who's read the book for book club agree with this statement?

    I also thought that Hippokrene made a great point in the other thread:
    Quote Originally Posted by hippokrene
    I savor language, and find Valente is a breath of fresh air. A good deal of what’s labeled fantasy uses a perfunctory, boring style of writing. The reader is a crow that follows behind the author’s Hansel and Gretel, pecking up crumbs of description and occasionally swallowing a mouthful.

    Reading Valente’s work is like being scooped up and dropped in a giant bowl of bread pudding. It’s only natural that a reader’s brain squawks and flaps wildly at first. When I read Labyrinth, it took me most of the book to get into the writing. When I read The Orphan’s Tales, it took me three chapters. When I read Palimpsest, it took me one sentence.
    Looking back at thread and the comments I made after reading Palimpsest, I realise that this book has not stayed with me like Orphan's Tales. I can still "see" several of the images and scenes from Orphan's tales, but all Palimpsest has left with me is a vague feeling of unease and weirdness.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Mithfânion View Post
    Not a great deal of responses sofar, he said euphemistically. How are people getting on with reading this one?
    Gonna be completely honest here: between the cream-filled canals and the STD city concept, I gave this one a pass despite my lingering curiosity about Valente's work. Those two things are exactly as appealing to me as being told "this is a book about a bowl full of rotten tomatoes and also an STD that gives you venereal warts that then transmute into incandescent bubbles and float away, creating the music of the heavens note-by-note as they pop."

    Some people won't read books about dogs dying, some people won't read books about kids subjected to sexual abuse, and apparently I won't read books about cream-filled canals. Who knew!

  9. #9
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    The curdling, oh the curdling!

    Have you read The Orphan's Tales Cranky? They're free of cream and STD's (to the best of my memory)

  10. #10
    I know, right?! I can't get it out of my head that somebody needs to clean that up real fast or it's going to smell terrible. It is this terrible itch in my head that is, of course, impossible to scratch because the canals don't exist and therefore they can never be cleaned and it is driving me insane that somewhere in this imaginary world they're going to be stuck with a city that reeks of spoiled milk.

    So I'm completely crazy. Oh well.

    I haven't read the Orphan's Tales. I would like to. It's on my list but my list is a million books long and I'm not often in the right kind of mood to read something like Valente. I have read some of her short stories here and there in the past and have been consistently impressed with her skill and imagination, but I have yet to buy any of her books.

  11. #11
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I'll also say that, while I didn't dislike this, I didn't like it nearly as much as the Orphan's Tales. I didn't mind the dreaminess, and I'm not sure I agree that it's feminine in tone (I'll check out the other thread, but what does that even mean?), but I felt like I would have liked for there to be more....something....there.

    There have been some negative comments about the level of description. Really, I felt that this was stylistically right on the mark. The overly descriptive passages were all in the dreamworld and the real world sections of the book were much more mundane writing. And as flowery as some of those sections were, they just felt dreamy to me, not overwrought or tedious.

    Thinking on it, I think where I lost connection to the book was in the fact that the problems each of the characters was dealing with felt a little removed from importance. They all had issues which could be resolved in Palimpsest, but I didn't feel that they were pressing in any way, even though the characters probably felt that way. Then again, they're all damaged people in some way or another and maybe I just wasn't making a connection based on sheer misunderstanding.

    I suppose all in all the book felt more like an appetizer than a meal to me, which is just the opposite of the Orphan's Tales, which I found completely satisfying in every way.

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