Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.accesslog' doesn't exist query: SELECT uid, timestamp FROM accesslog WHERE (path = 'node/159' OR uid > 0) AND sid = 'f8bea5ce529b697cf41d089583cbcd51' ORDER BY timestamp DESC LIMIT 0, 1 in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:224:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:79f898bdfe4f24580a57f0ca305188c3'\";s:5:\"%file\";s:44:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:27;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:11659:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<h3><big><big>The wound of the \\'sexually-transmitted city\\'</big></big></h3>\\n<p>In a <a href=\\"http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/615326.html\\" target=\\"_blank\\">recent blog</a> entry <a href=\\"http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/profile\\" target=\\"_blank\\">Catheryn in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:347:\"Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist\nquery: INSERT into captcha_sessions (uid, sid, ip_address, timestamp, form_id, solution, status, attempts) VALUES (0, 'f8bea5ce529b697cf41d089583cbcd51', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395, 'comment_form', '51f17e20b62ef32384a87d70e15365ad', 0, 0)\";s:5:\"%file\";s:63:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:125;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54. in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:124:\"Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist\nquery: SELECT token FROM captcha_sessions WHERE csid = 0\";s:5:\"%file\";s:66:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.module\";s:5:\"%line\";i:214;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:125:\"Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist\nquery: SELECT status FROM captcha_sessions WHERE csid = 0\";s:5:\"%file\";s:63:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:155;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:125:\"Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist\nquery: SELECT status FROM captcha_sessions WHERE csid = 0\";s:5:\"%file\";s:63:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:155;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:165:\"Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist\nquery: UPDATE captcha_sessions SET timestamp=1516714395, solution='fNnWr8' WHERE csid=0\";s:5:\"%file\";s:63:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:137;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:224:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:a777d0249b540b4111ef42e9d15d7638'\";s:5:\"%file\";s:44:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:27;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:2124:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center></center></p>\\n<table align=\\"center\\" style=\\"width: 225px;\\">\\n<tbody>\\n<tr>\\n<td style=\\"width: 225px; background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center; vertical-align: bottom;\\">\\n<div><span style=\\"font-size: 19px;\\"><span style=\\"font-fami in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:224:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:0abc4daf3615eae37d92fac6774cbdca'\";s:5:\"%file\";s:44:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:27;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:1083:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<table align=\\"center\\" style=\\"width: 200px;\\">\\n<tbody>\\n<tr>\\n<td>\\n<script type=\\"text/javascript\\"><!--\\ngoogle_ad_client = \\"pub-5278265615507417\\";\\n/* 160x600 picture-only, created 9/29/10 */\\ngoogle_ad_slot = \\"3058889442\\";\\ngoogle_ad_width = 160;\\ngoogle_ad_height = 600;\\n//--><!--\\ngoogle_a in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:224:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:44e05be548c17efbc6463c731ca1d7c4'\";s:5:\"%file\";s:44:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:27;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:870:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\\n<table align=\\"center\\" border=\\"0\\" cellpadding=\\"0\\" cellspacing=\\"0\\">\\n<tbody>\\n<tr>\\n<td>\\n<div style=\\"text-align: center;\\"><a href=\\"http://ed-rex.com/bumblepuppy\\" target=\\"_blank\\"><img src=\\&qu in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:224:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:1587bce80743d25a13699439e1436ddf'\";s:5:\"%file\";s:44:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:27;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:828:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\\n<table style=\\"height: 645px; width: 285px;\\">\\n<tbody>\\n<tr>\\n<td><a href=\\"http://www.bppress.ca/product/old-mans-last-sauna/\\" target=\\"_blank\\"><img alt=\\"The Old Man\\'s Last Sauna, cover image\\" src=\\"/sites/default/files/2013_06/sauna_ad04.jpg\\" st in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:224:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:a641667eb8686ec6a410a6d1682e9f16'\";s:5:\"%file\";s:44:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc\";s:5:\"%line\";i:27;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395) in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:2569:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\\n<table style=\\"width: 275px;\\">\\n<tbody>\\n<tr>\\n<td style=\\"background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center;\\">\\n<div><a href=\\"http://ed-rex.com/mailman/listinfo/ed-rex-update_ed-rex.com\\" target=\\"_blank\\"><strong><span style=\\"font-f in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135
Review: Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente | www.ed-rex.com


Review: Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente

  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:79f898bdfe4f24580a57f0ca305188c3' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<h3><big><big>The wound of the \'sexually-transmitted city\'</big></big></h3>\n<p>In a <a href=\"http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/615326.html\" target=\"_blank\">recent blog</a> entry <a href=\"http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/profile\" target=\"_blank\">Catherynne M. Valente</a> offered a sardonic reply to reviewers who have used phrases like \"not for everyone\" and \"dense\" to describe her work.</p>\n<p>\n<blockquote>\"\'Not for everyone\' is certainly one--dude, no book is for everyone, why does this need to be said, even the most popular books have entire cultures of hate around them, if books were either black or white, for everyone or no one, then there\'d be five books published a year and that would be it. No one would have to write reviews.\"</blockquote></p>\n<p>Having now read the <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award\" target=\"_blank\">Hugo Award-nominated</a> <em>Palimpsest</em>, I find it hard not to echo the phrase, \"not for everyone\".</p>\n<p><em>Palimpsest</em> is far from your average <em>genre</em> novel, and a reader seeking from it the comforts of the familiar is likely going to wander away confused and disappointed. <em>Palimpsest</em> does not boast a standard plot or setting and features no obvious hero or villain. And then there\'s the language ...</p>\n<p>Worse then the lazy descriptions of her work as \"dense\" and \"not for everyone\", says Valente, \"is the oft-repeated saw\" that she writes \"more poetry than prose\".</p>\n<p>Valente\'s second objection is simply correct. Her prose is complicated and artful, loaded with imagery and metaphor, but it is <em>not</em> poetry, stealth or otherwise. It is presumably sometimes mistaken for poetry because Valente dares to dance from present tense to past, from second person to third (and back again). She is a writer willing to play with language, to push and pull it into new and interesting shapes &mdash; almost always, I am happy to say, while keeping in mind that she is first of all telling a story &mdash; however (ahem) difficult or even \"dense\".</p>\n<p>None of which make of a piece of writing, poetry, any more than inclusion of parts for viola and bassoon of necessity make of a piece of music, a symphony.</p>\n<p>All that said, is <em>Palimpsest</em> a good novel?</p>\n<p>On first-reading, yes it is. Very much so.</p>\n<p><a href=\"http://ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review\" target=\"_blank\">Click here to catch a glimpse of the \'sexually-transmitted city\' (no significant spoilers).</a></p>\n<p><center></center></p>\n<script type=\"text/javascript\"><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 728x90, created 8/25/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"5249112326\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 728;\ngoogle_ad_height = 90;\n//--><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 728x90, created 8/25/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"5249112326\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 728;\ngoogle_ad_height = 90;\n//-->\n</script><script type=\"text/javascript\"\nsrc=\"http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js\">\n</script><p></p>\n<h3><big><big>Bold ambitions, much success</big></big></h3>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"175\" align=\"left\" style=\"margin:4px 20px 10px 0px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/2010_11/palimpsest_cover.jpg\" alt=\"\" /><small><strong><a href=\"http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0553385763/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=edirexonl-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=15121&amp;creative=330641&amp;creativeASIN=0553385763\" target=\"_blank\"><em>Palimpsest</em></a><img src=\"http://www.assoc-amazon.ca/e/ir?t=edirexonl-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=15&amp;a=0553385763\" width=\"1\" height=\"1\" border=\"0\" alt=\"\" style=\"border:none !important; margin:0px !important;\" /><br />\nBy <a href=\"http://www.catherynnemvalente.com/\" target=\"_blank\">Catherynne M. Valente</a><br />\n<a href=\"http://bantam-dell.atrandom.com/\" target=\"_blank\">Bantam Spectra, 2009</a><br />\n367 pages, $16.50<br />\n# ISBN-10: 0553385763<br />\n# ISBN-13: 978-0553385762</strong></small></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<p><em>Palimpsest</em> the novel is about Palimpsest, the city: a fantastical urban landscape that can be visited only via sex, the physical congress of one body with another &mdash; a concept <a href=\"http://www.sfsite.com/04b/pp294.htm\" target=\"_blank\">one website</a> credits Valente herself with having called a \"sexually-transmitted city\". The disease (if <em>disease</em> is the right word; <em>affliction</em> may be more apt) manifests through physical stigmata, a portion of a map of the city which blossoms upon the skin of those who have visited it.</p>\n<p>As you probably imagine, <em>Palimpsest</em> is a novel drenched polymorphously in sex, but it is not <em>about</em> sex, nor is it particularly erotic. Sex is the vector to the story, as it were, but not the story itself.</p>\n<p>As that story opens, we are introduced to the city, Palimpsest, and to four inadvertent visitors, who have nothing in common but that they have been infected at the same time and so find themselves \"quartered\" together, like members of a tour group arbitrarily placed in the same cabin. They are: Sei, a young Japanese train-enthusiast; Oleg, a Russian-American locksmith with a questionable grasp on reality; Ludovico, an obsessive Italian book-binder; and November, an American beekeeper.</p>\n<p>Each has entered the city via the embrace of a different lover; each encounters a different area of it; and each develops a powerful and not necessarily healthy connection to Palimpsest and, so, to one another. That is the concept and, to a large extent, it is also what serves as the the plot.</p>\n<p>As with an addictive drug, a wilful madness, a sexual compulsion, these two men and two women are drawn back, again and again, to the dreamlike city, at a sometimes enormous cost. But the road for Valente\'s story is neither straight nor is its destination obvious. <em>Palimpsest</em> offers no monster or villain to be defeated, no hero or straightforward quest to cheer on. Instead we follow four surreal characters struggling to understand and even to control the inexplicable roads onto which they have wandered.</p>\n<p>I won\'t pretend that I know what Valente intends me to take away from her vision &mdash; if she means for there to be a particular \"correct\" reading of the story at all. There might be one over-riding metaphor or (worse) allegory behind it all, but I suspect not; Valente seems too interesting a writer for that kind of reductionist\'s fiction. Rather, I suspect that she too was visiting her creation, exploring it, even while she was creating it.</p>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"120\" align=\"right\" style=\"margin: 0px 0px 10px 20px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><iframe src=\"http://rcm-ca.amazon.ca/e/cm?t=edirexonl-20&amp;o=15&amp;p=8&amp;l=as1&amp;asins=0553385763&amp;ref=tf_til&amp;fc1=000000&amp;IS2=1&amp;lt1=_blank&amp;m=amazon&amp;lc1=0000FF&amp;bc1=000000&amp;bg1=FFFFFF&amp;f=ifr\" target=\"_blank\" style=\"width:120px;height:240px;\" scrolling=\"no\" marginwidth=\"0\" marginheight=\"0\" frameborder=\"0\"></iframe></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<p>Valente\'s Palimpsest brought to my mind somewhat of of Peake\'s <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gormenghast_series\" target=\"_blank\">Castle Gormenghast</a>, an awful lot of Delany\'s <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhalgren\" target=\"_blank\">Bellona</a> (a city I would be surprised to learn Valente has <em>not</em> visited) and even, maybe unaccountably, a sliver or two from Melville\'s <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moby-Dick\" target=\"_blank\">Pequod</a>.</p>\n<p>Honestly, I\'m hesitant about making such comparisons, especially since I\'ve only read <em>Palimpsest</em> the once, but it <em>does</em> seem as if it\'s in dialogue at least with the first two of the triptych mentioned above. In any event, though my library copy is overdue for return, I have ordered a brand new copy for myself and fully intend to re-visit <em>Palimpsest</em> in the expectation that, like a city, the novel will reward at least one re-reading.</p>\n<p>Whether it will warrant a third or fourth, I am not so sure, due to the novel\'s major flaw: its characters. I named the four protagonists earlier, but had to check the back cover-copy to do so. For all the fascination of Palimpsest itself, its human visitors never came fully to life for me, but seemed as the human-shaped figures at the base of architectural drawings, rather than portraits of living human beings.</p>\n<p>While I believe Valente intended the reader to feel for Oleg\'s shame and longing, for Sei\'s existential aimlessness; for Ludovico\'s obsessive love and for November\'s ... for whatever it was that characterized November &mdash; I don\'t remember <em>what</em> that was, which is the point. Valente\'s prose is powerful and her vision unique, but I never quite believed in her characters\' reality and so, was never convinced me that their story <em>mattered</em>.</p>\n<p><em>Palimpsest</em> deserved it\'s place on the Hugo short-list; but I think it\'s right that it didn\'t take home the prize. Nevertheless, Valente is a writer I\'m going to follow from now on and I don\'t hesitate a moment to suggest you do the same. And I won\'t be at all surprised if, in a week or three, I write about it again and find I have very different things to say.</p>\n', created = 1516714395, expire = 1516800795, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:79f898bdfe4f24580a57f0ca305188c3' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
  • user warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist query: INSERT into captcha_sessions (uid, sid, ip_address, timestamp, form_id, solution, status, attempts) VALUES (0, 'f8bea5ce529b697cf41d089583cbcd51', '54.82.29.141', 1516714395, 'comment_form', '51f17e20b62ef32384a87d70e15365ad', 0, 0) in /home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc on line 125.
  • user warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist query: SELECT token FROM captcha_sessions WHERE csid = 0 in /home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.module on line 214.
  • user warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist query: SELECT status FROM captcha_sessions WHERE csid = 0 in /home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc on line 155.
  • user warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist query: SELECT status FROM captcha_sessions WHERE csid = 0 in /home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc on line 155.
  • user warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.captcha_sessions' doesn't exist query: UPDATE captcha_sessions SET timestamp=1516714395, solution='fNnWr8' WHERE csid=0 in /home/edadmin/public_html/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc on line 137.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:a777d0249b540b4111ef42e9d15d7638' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center></center></p>\n<table align=\"center\" style=\"width: 225px;\">\n<tbody>\n<tr>\n<td style=\"width: 225px; background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center; vertical-align: bottom;\">\n<div><span style=\"font-size: 19px;\"><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\"><strong>Like what you&#39;ve read?</strong></span></span></div>\n</td>\n</tr>\n<tr>\n<td style=\"width: 225px; background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162);\">\n<form action=\"https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr\" method=\"post\"><input name=\"cmd\" type=\"hidden\" value=\"_s-xclick\" /> <input name=\"hosted_button_id\" type=\"hidden\" value=\"MR496TCXQQXQL\" /> <input alt=\"PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!\" border=\"0\" name=\"submit\" target=\"_blank\" src=\"http://ed-rex.com/sites/default/files/adverts/donate_button02.gif\" type=\"image\" /> <img alt=\"\" border=\"0\" height=\"1\" src=\"https://www.paypalobjects.com/en_US/i/scr/pixel.gif\" width=\"1\" /></form>\n</td>\n</tr>\n<tr>\n<td style=\"width: 225px; background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center; vertical-align: top;\">\n<div><span style=\"font-size: 26px;\"><em><strong><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\">Tip the author!</span></strong></em></span></div>\n</td>\n</tr>\n</tbody>\n</table>\n<p></p>\n', created = 1516714395, expire = 1516800795, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:a777d0249b540b4111ef42e9d15d7638' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:0abc4daf3615eae37d92fac6774cbdca' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<table align=\"center\" style=\"width: 200px;\">\n<tbody>\n<tr>\n<td>\n<script type=\"text/javascript\"><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 160x600 picture-only, created 9/29/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"3058889442\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 160;\ngoogle_ad_height = 600;\n//--><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 160x600 picture-only, created 9/29/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"3058889442\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 160;\ngoogle_ad_height = 600;\n//-->\n</script><script type=\"text/javascript\"\nsrc=\"http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js\">\n</script></td></tr>\n\n</tbody></table>\n', created = 1516714395, expire = 1516800795, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:0abc4daf3615eae37d92fac6774cbdca' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:44e05be548c17efbc6463c731ca1d7c4' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\n<table align=\"center\" border=\"0\" cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\">\n<tbody>\n<tr>\n<td>\n<div style=\"text-align: center;\"><a href=\"http://ed-rex.com/bumblepuppy\" target=\"_blank\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/2011_06/BPad4TNP_04.jpg\" style=\"width: 225px; height: 227px;\" /></a></div>\n</td>\n</tr>\n</tbody>\n</table>\n<p></p></center></p>\n', created = 1516714395, expire = 1516800795, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:44e05be548c17efbc6463c731ca1d7c4' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:1587bce80743d25a13699439e1436ddf' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\n<table style=\"height: 645px; width: 285px;\">\n<tbody>\n<tr>\n<td><a href=\"http://www.bppress.ca/product/old-mans-last-sauna/\" target=\"_blank\"><img alt=\"The Old Man\'s Last Sauna, cover image\" src=\"/sites/default/files/2013_06/sauna_ad04.jpg\" style=\"width: 285px; height: 634px;\" /></a></td>\n</tr>\n</tbody>\n</table>\n<p></p></center></p>\n', created = 1516714395, expire = 1516800795, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:1587bce80743d25a13699439e1436ddf' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:a641667eb8686ec6a410a6d1682e9f16' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\n<table style=\"width: 275px;\">\n<tbody>\n<tr>\n<td style=\"background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center;\">\n<div><a href=\"http://ed-rex.com/mailman/listinfo/ed-rex-update_ed-rex.com\" target=\"_blank\"><strong><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\"><big>Stop being late to the party!</big></span></strong></a></div>\n<p>\n<div><span style=\"color: rgb(204, 255, 0);\"><em><span style=\"font-size: 24px;\"><strong><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\">Subscribe!</span></strong></span></em></span></div>\n</p><p><a href=\"http://ed-rex.com/mailman/listinfo/ed-rex-update_ed-rex.com\" target=\"_blank\"><img alt=\"Subscribe to my newsletter!\" src=\"http://ed-rex.com/sites/default/files/2011_07/subscribe_ad02.jpg\" style=\"width: 275px; height: 108px;\" /></a></p>\n<div><span style=\"color: rgb(255, 255, 0);\"></span></div>\n<div><strong><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\">Subscribe to the <em>Edifice Rex</em> mailing list to be notified whenever there&#39;s an update!</span></strong></div>\n<div>&nbsp;</div>\n<div><strong><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\"><big><big><big><a href=\"http://ed-rex.com/mailman/listinfo/ed-rex-update_ed-rex.com\" target=\"_blank\">Click here to sign up</a></big></big></big><br />\n(I promise, I won\'t abuse your trust; I won\'t sell your address to anyone or anything else, no matter how tempting the offer.)</span></strong></div>\n<div><a href=\"http://ed-rex.com/mailman/listinfo/ed-rex-update_ed-rex.com\" target=\"_blank\">&nbsp;</a></div>\n</td>\n</tr>\n</tbody>\n</table>\n<p></p></center></p>\n', created = 1516714395, expire = 1516800795, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:a641667eb8686ec6a410a6d1682e9f16' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.

The wound of the 'sexually-transmitted city'

In a recent blog entry Catherynne M. Valente offered a sardonic reply to reviewers who have used phrases like "not for everyone" and "dense" to describe her work.

"'Not for everyone' is certainly one--dude, no book is for everyone, why does this need to be said, even the most popular books have entire cultures of hate around them, if books were either black or white, for everyone or no one, then there'd be five books published a year and that would be it. No one would have to write reviews."

Having now read the Hugo Award-nominated Palimpsest, I find it hard not to echo the phrase, "not for everyone".

Palimpsest is far from your average genre novel, and a reader seeking from it the comforts of the familiar is likely going to wander away confused and disappointed. Palimpsest does not boast a standard plot or setting and features no obvious hero or villain. And then there's the language ...

Worse then the lazy descriptions of her work as "dense" and "not for everyone", says Valente, "is the oft-repeated saw" that she writes "more poetry than prose".

Valente's second objection is simply correct. Her prose is complicated and artful, loaded with imagery and metaphor, but it is not poetry, stealth or otherwise. It is presumably sometimes mistaken for poetry because Valente dares to dance from present tense to past, from second person to third (and back again). She is a writer willing to play with language, to push and pull it into new and interesting shapes — almost always, I am happy to say, while keeping in mind that she is first of all telling a story — however (ahem) difficult or even "dense".

None of which make of a piece of writing, poetry, any more than inclusion of parts for viola and bassoon of necessity make of a piece of music, a symphony.

All that said, is Palimpsest a good novel?

On first-reading, yes it is. Very much so.

Click here to catch a glimpse of the 'sexually-transmitted city' (no significant spoilers).

Bold ambitions, much success

Palimpsest
By Catherynne M. Valente
Bantam Spectra, 2009
367 pages, $16.50
# ISBN-10: 0553385763
# ISBN-13: 978-0553385762

Palimpsest the novel is about Palimpsest, the city: a fantastical urban landscape that can be visited only via sex, the physical congress of one body with another — a concept one website credits Valente herself with having called a "sexually-transmitted city". The disease (if disease is the right word; affliction may be more apt) manifests through physical stigmata, a portion of a map of the city which blossoms upon the skin of those who have visited it.

As you probably imagine, Palimpsest is a novel drenched polymorphously in sex, but it is not about sex, nor is it particularly erotic. Sex is the vector to the story, as it were, but not the story itself.

As that story opens, we are introduced to the city, Palimpsest, and to four inadvertent visitors, who have nothing in common but that they have been infected at the same time and so find themselves "quartered" together, like members of a tour group arbitrarily placed in the same cabin. They are: Sei, a young Japanese train-enthusiast; Oleg, a Russian-American locksmith with a questionable grasp on reality; Ludovico, an obsessive Italian book-binder; and November, an American beekeeper.

Each has entered the city via the embrace of a different lover; each encounters a different area of it; and each develops a powerful and not necessarily healthy connection to Palimpsest and, so, to one another. That is the concept and, to a large extent, it is also what serves as the the plot.

As with an addictive drug, a wilful madness, a sexual compulsion, these two men and two women are drawn back, again and again, to the dreamlike city, at a sometimes enormous cost. But the road for Valente's story is neither straight nor is its destination obvious. Palimpsest offers no monster or villain to be defeated, no hero or straightforward quest to cheer on. Instead we follow four surreal characters struggling to understand and even to control the inexplicable roads onto which they have wandered.

I won't pretend that I know what Valente intends me to take away from her vision — if she means for there to be a particular "correct" reading of the story at all. There might be one over-riding metaphor or (worse) allegory behind it all, but I suspect not; Valente seems too interesting a writer for that kind of reductionist's fiction. Rather, I suspect that she too was visiting her creation, exploring it, even while she was creating it.

Valente's Palimpsest brought to my mind somewhat of of Peake's Castle Gormenghast, an awful lot of Delany's Bellona (a city I would be surprised to learn Valente has not visited) and even, maybe unaccountably, a sliver or two from Melville's Pequod.

Honestly, I'm hesitant about making such comparisons, especially since I've only read Palimpsest the once, but it does seem as if it's in dialogue at least with the first two of the triptych mentioned above. In any event, though my library copy is overdue for return, I have ordered a brand new copy for myself and fully intend to re-visit Palimpsest in the expectation that, like a city, the novel will reward at least one re-reading.

Whether it will warrant a third or fourth, I am not so sure, due to the novel's major flaw: its characters. I named the four protagonists earlier, but had to check the back cover-copy to do so. For all the fascination of Palimpsest itself, its human visitors never came fully to life for me, but seemed as the human-shaped figures at the base of architectural drawings, rather than portraits of living human beings.

While I believe Valente intended the reader to feel for Oleg's shame and longing, for Sei's existential aimlessness; for Ludovico's obsessive love and for November's ... for whatever it was that characterized November — I don't remember what that was, which is the point. Valente's prose is powerful and her vision unique, but I never quite believed in her characters' reality and so, was never convinced me that their story mattered.

Palimpsest deserved it's place on the Hugo short-list; but I think it's right that it didn't take home the prize. Nevertheless, Valente is a writer I'm going to follow from now on and I don't hesitate a moment to suggest you do the same. And I won't be at all surprised if, in a week or three, I write about it again and find I have very different things to say.

Spread the word!

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:340:\"Table &#039;edadmin_drpl1.accesslog&#039; doesn&#039;t exist\nquery: INSERT INTO accesslog (title, path, url, hostname, uid, sid, timer, timestamp) values(&#039;Review: Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente &#039;, &#039;node/159&#039;, &#039;&#039;, &#039;54.82.29.141&#039;, 0, &#039;f8bea5ce529b697cf41d089583cbcd51&#039;, 264, 1516714395)\";s:5:\"%file\";s:62:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/modules/statistics/statistics.module\";s:5:\"%line\";i:63;}', 3, '', 'http://www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/palimpsest_review', '', '54.8 in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:829:\"Table &#039;./edadmin_drpl1/sessions&#039; is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE sessions SET uid = 0, cache = 0, hostname = &#039;54.82.29.141&#039;, session = &#039;messages|a:1:{s:5:\\&quot;error\\&quot;;a:1:{i:0;s:432:\\&quot;user warning: Table &amp;#039;edadmin_drpl1.accesslog&amp;#039; doesn&amp;#039;t exist\\nquery: INSERT INTO accesslog (title, path, url, hostname, uid, sid, timer, timestamp) values(&amp;#039;Review: Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente &amp;#039;, &amp;#039;node/159&amp;#039;, &amp;#039;&amp;#039;, &amp;#039;54.82.29.141&amp in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135