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Review: Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente

The wound of the 'sexually-transmitted city'

In a recent blog entry Catherynne M. Valente offered a sardonic reply to reviewers who have used phrases like "not for everyone" and "dense" to describe her work.

"'Not for everyone' is certainly one--dude, no book is for everyone, why does this need to be said, even the most popular books have entire cultures of hate around them, if books were either black or white, for everyone or no one, then there'd be five books published a year and that would be it. No one would have to write reviews."

Having now read the Hugo Award-nominated Palimpsest, I find it hard not to echo the phrase, "not for everyone".

Palimpsest is far from your average genre novel, and a reader seeking from it the comforts of the familiar is likely going to wander away confused and disappointed. Palimpsest does not boast a standard plot or setting and features no obvious hero or villain. And then there's the language ...

Worse then the lazy descriptions of her work as "dense" and "not for everyone", says Valente, "is the oft-repeated saw" that she writes "more poetry than prose".

Valente's second objection is simply correct. Her prose is complicated and artful, loaded with imagery and metaphor, but it is not poetry, stealth or otherwise. It is presumably sometimes mistaken for poetry because Valente dares to dance from present tense to past, from second person to third (and back again). She is a writer willing to play with language, to push and pull it into new and interesting shapes — almost always, I am happy to say, while keeping in mind that she is first of all telling a story — however (ahem) difficult or even "dense".

None of which make of a piece of writing, poetry, any more than inclusion of parts for viola and bassoon of necessity make of a piece of music, a symphony.

All that said, is Palimpsest a good novel?

On first-reading, yes it is. Very much so.

Click here to catch a glimpse of the 'sexually-transmitted city' (no significant spoilers).

This entry was originally posted at http://ed-rex.dreamwidth.org/209267.html. Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.
Tags: catherynne m. valente, fantasy, palimpsest, review, science fiction
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