Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ex Libris: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente

Everyone has stories to tell, including the characters we read in the stories themselves. So what happens when everyone starts talking?

It's not hard to think of a matrioshka or a Russian nested doll when considering The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente. Seemingly inspired by the Arabian One Thousand and One Nights, this book is actually a collection of stories told by one character to another.

However, despite the similarity of the initial framing story of Scheherezade telling stories to the Shahryar, Valente takes the story one step further by having the characters whose story is being told sit up and start telling a story they know.

Confused? It gets more convoluted: the characters in each particular story have their own stories to tell, and like a series of mirrors facing each other, the stories seem to resonate on and on and on. To say that this book is challenging to read, narrative-wise, would be an understatement as Valente would sometimes jump from an on-going story to go back one or two narrative thread up and then back down to continue.

It would be a good way to describe this book as a tapestry-- as compared to a single thread narrative-- in the way the stories weave in and out each other until they form a complete cloth. I admit that this sometimes got annoying, especially if one were to read this book off and on. But for the most part, I was amazed at Valente's incredible skill in managing all the storylines.

So what's the story all about?

Well, it's hard to say: it's about a mysterious orphan telling stories to a lonely young prince. But it's also about a (different) young prince who runs away and runs into an old woman with magical geese who was once a beautiful girl who confronted a tyrannical king and whose mentor-witchwoman learned the secrets of magic from... um. *whew*

It also has shapechangers and demons, dog monks and snake gods, and heron kings and indescribable beasties. Suffice it to say, this book has more fantastical stuff than you can shake a Harry Potter wand at. And did I mention that the stories-- their tone reminiscent of fairy tales and fables-- are all beautifully written? With eye-catching illustrations interspersed throughout the pages done by the incredible Michael Kaluta?

Suffice it to say, this is the best book I've read as far as the year 2008 goes.* (Rating: 4 paws out 4.)

*Admittedly, this book came out in 2007.


Don said...

me likey!

banzai cat said...

hehe go buy. the 2nd book is also available already and valente looks like an author whose books are all recommendable.