Thursday, 18 August 2011

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.

Palimpsest is a very weird book. I knew that before I started, and that was probably the reason I didn't pick it up sooner. It is a good kind of weird, but I definitely needed to be in the right state of mind to read it.

It's not only weird, but complex. There are many stories interwoven in Palimpsest, far more than the back cover promises. At first I was utterly lost. Lost about what was happening in the story, where it all was supposed to go, or even if it was supposed to go anywhere.

But this is the kind of book that you discover slowly. Slowly you unravel the story of each character, just as you slowly discover the city of Palimpsest and the book becomes more clearer. And this is the kind of book that needs attention while being read, every detail is important. I admit that at first I was not as attentive as I should, and I missed some things. But as I became more and more engrossed in the story, I started to see the connections and details.

Even though this book is confusing at first, and it takes some time to start to understand it, it is a pleasure to read because the writing is excellent. Poetic and vivid, I could see the pictures it painted in my mind very clear; beautiful, terrifying and surreal. It was the writing that made me read on, until I started to have characters I loved, characters I liked, and characters I disliked, until the mystery city of Palimpsest was not confusing but intriguing.

I enjoyed this book a lot, although I kept waiting for the ending to blow me away, it never really did. I will be re-reading it some time in the future, to pay attention to the details I missed, to the ones that only make sense once you know the ending... But that's a plan for later. For now, I can say it is a good book.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews: starmetal oak book blog

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My Soundtrack for this book: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F♯ A♯ ∞ (mostly East Hastings and Providence)


  1. This is one of those books that intimidate me (ª.ª)

  2. It's intimidating... I'm not sure if you would like it or not.

  3. Yeah, me neither...but I do like the cover :)