27 January, 2008

Book Review: The Orphan's Tale: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

Since this is my first official review, blog-wise, I should probably disclose that I rarely hate books. I've been reading voraciously since I was 3 years old, and in the last 26 years I've developed a pretty good sense for whether I'll like a book or not by reading the cover/flap and maybe the first page or two. I don't read the last page first or skip ahead or even read other people's opinions of books if I can help it. It is my opinion that a book should stand up on its own covers without help from passersby or that guy from Maxim who got fired to shill the story. I also have a bit of OCD when it comes to reading things In Order. Terry Pratchett's Discworld series makes me itch not because the stories are bad (they are in fact wonderful and hilarious) but because they don't come In Order. It's something I'm trying to overcome. It may not work.
Lastly, I'm sort of a fiction kind of girl. I rarely read non-fiction unless it is the autobiography of someone like Charlie Chaplin or Katherine Hepburn. I read to escape reality, which may have colored my view of the real world just a little. And it will not surprise you, having read this far, that my book collection contains mainly Classics, Fantasy and Chick-Lit.

Catherynne M. Valente's work is haunting and lovely. Also, her name is hard to spell. She does an excellent job of weaving her stories together; if In the Night Garden were a textile, it would be an intricately braided piece of silk - nearly impossible and utterly fascinating. The story begins with a girl who was born with raccoon-like stains around her eyes. Her people call her a demon and throw her out into the garden of the palace to die or survive as she may. A young boy - one of the sultan's sons - sneaks out to meet this strange girl and is told that the stains around her eyes are actually stories, written in impossibly tiny script. He begs her to tell him her tales, and from there it's a masterfully crafted web of fantastic stories one nested inside the other.

"Grown-up fairy tale" is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot lately; the media seems to be as enchanted by child-like fantasy with more adult themes as the public is. Studios attempt to lure in adults with no children using these words, trying to appeal to a sense of whimsy that has gone out of the world we know and been replaced by a slight sense of panic underlying everything we see on the news and read in the papers. This book is also a grown-up fairy tale, but not in the way that Pan's Labyrinth was with its adult themes, or Enchanted was with jokes that appeal to both children and adults. In the Night Garden is grown-up because of the multiple layers of complexity involved. It is whimsical without being ridiculous,which is a difficult line to maintain.

I like Valente's story-telling style. She has also written books of poetry, and her poet's background adds fluidity to her writing. I keep coming up with imagery that involves silk and water and other such smooth surfaces when trying to describe this work; suffice it to say that I found it utterly delightful and will be reading more of Valente's work, including her poetry.

1 comment:

  1. I went to the local reading by the author for this book's release, and I have to admit I was a bit intrigued. I will have to make sure to pick up a copy now.