21 November 2009

Book review: Palimpsest

Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente, Bantam/Spectra 2009 (Amazon)

Cat's latest book has generated a lot of praise, mostly about her lyrical prose. I read her Big Idea post, and I thought the concept was intriguing: A sexually-transmitted city, whose map appears on your skin, and people who go there keep wanting to go back.

I didn't like the book. It makes me sad, because I wanted to like it -- the characters were interesting, even the ones you wanted to kick in the teeth, and it's generally quite sex-positive, and the characters had a wide variety of sexualities (including one who gets off on trains.) Some of my friends are friends with Cat, and she seems like the kind of person I could chat with over drinks at a con.

It was the writing that spoiled it for me. The lyrical prose so widely lauded bored me. At times, it seemed like she sacrificed the story for the words themselves, and writing should never call attention to itself. The execution, the way she put four separate yet interwoven stories together, was well done, but I couldn't get over my irritation at using a word's second cousin. It felt slightly pretentious at times, too.

However, if you're a fan of prose in an eyewatering shade of purple, it might not bother you.

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