South Park Self

circumnavigating fairyland

I have confessed before in this forum that Catherynne M. Valente is my literary girl crush. I love her work because it's astonishingly literary, dense and subtle and evocative, and frequently heartrendingly beautiful. The stories in her short story collections (I have The Omikuji Project) are odd, offbeat, postmodern creatures who sneak up on you; her fairy-tale work, mostly notably In the Night Garden, is layered and self-conscious and structurally inventive, which pushes enough of my happy buttons at once to make me basically incoherent. I've just acquired her recent novel Deathless, which is a sly take on Russian folktale set in Stalinist Russia, and am very much looking forward to reading it. This week she releases The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship Of Her Own Making, which is technically a young-adult novel, but which I think stands quite on its own merits as a postmodern fairy tale which rather more than nods at the Victorians (Macdonald, Molesworth, and especially Nesbit), Baum, Thurber and others.

Classic fairy tale has this thing with texture where it tends towards simplification - clean lines, clear symbols, well-defined narrative shapes. Postmodern fairy tale plays an endless game of identity tension, skating perilously on the thin line where complicating the tale and mucking with its texture edges it dangerously into some other kind of narrative. The Girl Who negotiates this magnificently, its whimsy and off-beat elements cluttering the story, but not too much and with a certain beautiful inevitability - however quirky or modern, the details feel right and appropriate and never disrupt the matter-of-fact acceptance proper to fairyland and all its ilk.

This is colourful, witty writing, with a strongly moral centre which lends it both impetus and pathos, but the joy is in the details as much as the shape of the tale. The characters are marvellous eccentrics, animated archetypes, but entirely original - there is nothing of cliché here, at least not without immediate, gleeful deconstruction.I hesitate to give you details because that might disrupt the wonder with which they hit you when you first read them, but I loved the wyverary, and the leopard, and the obsession with spoons. I cannot recommend this book highly enough - buy it, read it, rejoice. The first few chapters are up at here; it's also available on Loot for you locals.

As an appetizer, I also recommend Ms. Valente's stories available online: The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew, which I think I've linked before, and How to Become a Mars Overlord. Warning: deliriously beautiful language.
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