I have a feeling that nothing Valente ever publishes will be what one would term as ‘bad’. Her grasp of language is too strong, it’s poetry too perfect. Evocative while rarely trending towards purple, she captures even the most basic moments as if they carried in the very blood of the myth she is building. It’s unnerving frankly, the way she weaves the stories of the past and into the political realities of our only recently abandoned present.
The book smacks of the magic present in Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman. It blends the worlds of fairy tale and fascism with the grinning madness of one who understands just how tenuous that separation can be.
There is something about this book that feels a little too prone to roaming. It will stare into something never short of brilliant only to abandon it in only a fraction of the time I felt it deserved. It felt like what would happen if I let my nephew run amok in The Hermitage. So much history, so much grand beauty to behold, a world frothed with the potential of stories as grand as they are wide.
And yet they never are.
They are left, abandoned as simple threads, flourishes on a simple story that rides on the tails of love and longing. The book either needed to be shorter or longer, I can’t decide which. It hovers over things that deserve more attention than they actually receive and in the end I ended my journey both haunted and annoyed.
As Valente so cheerfully seems to enjoy reminding us as the book draws towards it’s ending, “Life is like that.”
“I savor bitterness–it is born of experience. It is the privilege of one who has truly lived. You, too, must learn to prefer it. After all, when all else is gone, you may still have bitterness in abundance.” ― Catherynne M. Valente, Deathless