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Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Palimpsest (edition 2009)

by Catherynne Valente

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933539,346 (3.79)1 / 103
Authors:Catherynne Valente
Info:Spectra (2009), Edition: Original, Paperback, 367 pages
Collections:Your library

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Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

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Showing 1-5 of 53 (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 |
I've really liked Valente's prose in other books, so picking this one up for just a couple bucks was a no-brainer. It sat on a shelf for about a year while I ran through other books on my to-read list, until I finally sat down on vacation and decided it was time to enjoy the lovely words.

I was... surprised. The prose is still beautiful, but there isn't much to the story. It sounds intriguing: four strangers who found their way to a fantastical city and became addicted to it and need to find their way back, except that they need to find each other in the real world first.

But it's not about that, not really. It's more about the masses of casual, anonymous, and incestuous sex that these people need to have in order to get back to the city temporarily. It's about caring so little about anything but that city that the real world seems fake. Perhaps it's an accurate description of how addiction takes people hostage, though it makes many of the characters seem selfish and uncaring to me. It's hard to like characters who can literally think of nothing beyond one single desire that consumes them utterly.

The story will sometimes call a character loving or giving, but that doesn't show in the text. No one does anything that doesn't advance their own cause; it just so happens that sometimes advancing their desires means helping another person with their desires.

The writing is fantastical, beautiful, and so, so petty. The world didn't feel bigger after I read it. It felt smaller and crueler and even more isolated. ( )
1 vote PaperCrystals | Jun 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (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.)
Disambiguation notice
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Haiku summary
A city of dreams
But to see all its wonders
A price must be paid

No descriptions found.

"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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