From the mind of Megan Arkenberg

March 28, 2009


Posted by Megan Arkenberg with No comments
This post is spoiler-free.

I've just finished reading Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente, and I honestly can't say just now what I think of it.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, immensely. The word "imaginative" fails to convey the richness of the city Valente has created. The utter strangeness of the creatures and events in Palimpsest makes the author's ability to make them real and concrete in the mind of the reader all the more impressive--and necessary. The four protagonists were interesting--much more so towards the end of the book than at the beginning--but nothing compared to the citizens (I hesitate to say "people") of Palimpsest themselves. The hints of a soon-to-be-revealed violent past behind the city kept me engaged when the plot lagged.

That said, I am a prose reader rather than a story reader--it's not the what that interests me, but the how. Valente has been frequently and deservedly praised for her rich prose. However, there are places where richness becomes unintelligable, or simply silly. An example from page nine:
She balanced one hand--many-ringed--on her hip and jerked her head in the manner of a fox snuffling the air for roasting things.

"Balanced," "snuffling," and "many-ringed" can all be argued, but why on earth would a fox--a wild animal--be interested in cooked meat? This kind of slip is rare, and becomes rarer as the novel progresses, but when the prose is generally so effortless, it's all the more obvious when the author is trying too hard.

So what do I think of Palimpsest? I'm glad I read it, but it won't get a rereading from me. The protagonists, interesting as they were, didn't feel real enough for me to truly invest myself emotionally in their story (I hesitate to say "struggle"), and I don't feel as though there was any deep meaning to dig for the second time through. To be fair, I am also simultaneously rereading The Fountainhead and The Picture of Dorian Gray, so my literary expectations are high. I'd certainly recommend giving Palimpsest a try--at the very least, you'll have a new way of looking at honey bees.


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