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Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Palimpsest (edition 2009)

by Catherynne Valente

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963528,982 (3.81)1 / 103
Authors:Catherynne Valente
Info:Spectra (2009), Edition: Original, Paperback, 367 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

  1. 40
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  2. 30
    Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (PhoenixFalls)
  3. 30
    The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (Jannes)
    Jannes: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland was first concieved in Palimpsest as one of the protaginists' favourite book. Then it sort got a life of it's own, so to speak. Palimpsest is probably not for children, though.
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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
My book club selection for the month.
I'd heard Valente described as a steampunk author, but I really
wouldn't classify this as being in that genre. I've yet to acquire her
other books, but I'm on the lookout for them!
Outside of our reality, there is a city called Palimpsest. Those who
have visited the city mysteriously acquire a tattoo-like mark
somewhere on their skin - and an inexplicable desire, almost an
addiction, driving them to return. The only way the city can be
entered is through sex with another traveller who bears the mark on
their body. The travellers to the city spend their time there
obsessively searching for a way to stay - something unknown to any
visitor, unheard-of by the natives, but rumored to exist.
Four people who arrived together in Palimpsest theorize that a
permanent entrance could be found if they find each other and meet in
the "real world," and they seek to do so...
The book is beautifully written, but definitely disturbing and
grotesque. Rich with details and odd obsessions, Valente captures the
feeling of bad dreams that are not quite nightmares - those dreams
that leave you with an unpleasant feeling for the day, but are filled
with fascinating and out-of-place elements that one can't stop
thinking of. The contradiction in the book is that for all its quirks
and oddities, Palimpsest is a curiously 'empty' place, devoid of the
richness of a real world. It is a dream. It is never fully (or, to me,
convincingly) explained why anyone would want to go there, let alone
stay there... but then again, I don't understand that about other
addictions, either, and the four characters are definitely credible
candidates for falling victim to such an escape: Oleg, an immigrant
locksmith without social ties, obsessed with his dead sister. Ludovic:
a bookbinder whose wife has left him because he cared for his books
more than her. November: a beekeeper whose bees are everything to her.
Sei: a woman from Japan who spends all her time riding trains. They
all believe that they will find what they lack in Palimpsest...
Not always a pleasant experience, but worth reading. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
To review. ( )
  glitzandshadows | Oct 12, 2015 |
Probably closer to 3.5 starts. I loved the concept of this book more than the execution, to be honest. But perhaps Murakami has simply ruined anything but stellar writing in works of this ilk.
The good: the story is original. In a world of stale twice, thrice and uncountable retold tales, originality is always welcome. The ending is pretty much perfect, even if getting there seemed a bit forced and inorganic towards the end of the books.
The bad: honestly, it was a decent book and one that I'd recommend. Like I said, it simply pales in comparison to other works.
( )
  mkclane | Jul 31, 2015 |
Wow, I think I may need to read this again to get the full effect. It is fanciful, imaginative, and a lot to take in. ( )
  jenngv | Jun 25, 2015 |
Description: Catherynne Valente weaves a lyrically erotic spell of a place where the grotesque and the beautiful reside and the passport to our most secret fantasies begins with a stranger’s kiss.…

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.

Thoughts: I am a huge fan of Valente's Girl Who books. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making totally blew me away when I read it. I knew that that book had come out of another book Valente had written and I was curious to see what role the seeming children's book would play in a book that seemed to deal an awful lot with sex*... And if it would be as wonderful as I hoped.

On the Corner of 16th Street and Hieratica, a factory sings and sighs. Look: its thin spires flash green, and spot long loops of white flame into the night. Casimira owns this place, as did her father and her grandmother and probably her most distant progenitor. It is pleasant to imagine them, curling and uncurling their proboscis-fingers against machines of stick and bone. There has always been a Casimira, except when, occasionally, there is a Casimir...

And what do they make in this factory? Why, the vermin of Palimpsest. There is a machine for stamping cockroaches with glistening green carapaces, their maker's mark hidden cleverly under the left wing. There is a machine for shaping and pounding rates, soft gray fur still and shining when they are first released. There is another mold for squirrels, one for chipmunks and one for plain mice. There is a centrifuge for spiders, a lizard-pour, a delicate and ancient machines which turns out flies and mosquitoes by turn, so exquisite, so perfect that they seem to be made of nothing but copper wire, spun sugar, and light. There is a printing press for graffiti which spits out effervescent letters in scarlet, black, angry yellows, and the trademark green of Casimira. They fly from the high windows and flatten themselves against walls, trestles, train cars.

So begins Palimpsest, the most brilliantly fevered opium dream I have ever read. Valente manages to throw the reader directly into the midst- the dust and cobbles- of this amazing and disturbed place, a place that demands a high price if you want to prowl its streets. It's like reading the magnum opus of a psychopath who happens to be the reincarnation of Shakespeare, Lewis Carrol, and Ferdinand Magellan.

While the descriptions and the prose and the mythology Valente creates here are breathtaking and spellbinding, the actual plot is serpentine and possibly even a little bit uninteresting. While I liked the characters very much and found their various experiences intriguing, how they fit together was unclear for most of the book and then became somewhat tedious in its revelation towards the end. This shouldn't discourage you from reading Palimpsest, but you should be forwarned that you aren't picking up an engrossing, can't wait to see what happens next, plot driven novel. Come for the words and let the plot just be the vehicle that carries you on.

One word of warning: if the idea of casual sex offends you, this is probably not the book for you. There isn't a lot of time spent on the acts themselves and what is there is well written and feels authentic to the world, but sex plays an intrinsically important and revelatory part in the mythos of the world. This is NOT a romance novel with descriptions of quivering members and heaving bosoms. The sex is just another of the prices these travelers pay.

*For those of you who have read the Girl Who books and then pick up Palimpsest, be prepared for some scenes of the Green Wind being very... adult. It's done very, very beautifully, but I will be viewing the Green Wind a bit differently on my next foray into Fairyland.

Rating: 4.4

Liked: 4.5
Plot: 3.5
Characterization: 4.5
Writing: 5

http://www.librarything.com/topic/156659#4206437 ( )
  leahbird | Jan 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
You need a passport to enter the improbable city Palimpsest and its magical mindscapes: a map of the city tattooed in black ink somewhere on your body. But to receive the mark, first you must have sex with someone who already bears one. ... Too obsessive and self-involved to hold universal appeal, with characters resembling visitors from somebody else's recurring dreamscape.

added by melonbrawl | editKirkus Reviews (Jan 1, 2009)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Catherynne Valenteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beltran, CarlosCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:

There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st

But in his motion like an angel sings

Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;

Such harmony is in immortal souls;

But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

--William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
For Dmitri, the map by which I found this place
First words
On the corner of 16th Street and Hieratica a factory sings and sighs.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
A city of dreams
But to see all its wonders
A price must be paid

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"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 erotic and fantastic kingdom come Oleg, a New York locksmith; a beekeper, November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a Japanese woman named Sei, each of whom has lost something important in their lives. -- Publisher info.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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