Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Book About Fairyland

I have never reviewed or endorsed a book on this blog, and I am leery of using this as an advertising space at all. However, as one writer to another writer, I am so utterly in admiration of Catherynne Valente and her beautiful, deep, mythic, lush novels, that I would like to briefly say: her new book, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, is just out, hot from the printers, ready to fill your imagination with strange and rich wonders. It is the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Both are supposedly books for young adults, but trust me, this is fairytale telling at its wisest, strangest, most poetic and frank and deep. I've never encountered an author like Valente before. Her imagination is wild and endless, it is egalitarian, lyric, and versed in the true, earthen realms of magic and myth. She is really a poet at heart, I think, and I love her for it. Her duo, The Orphan's Tales had me enthralled for months, the way I used to get enthralled as a girl in front of the fire with cups of berry tea and my book in my lap, transported to worlds where animals talked, women grew leaves from their arms, and adventures abounded.

So, here's to delving into the thickets and wild fires of the heart, just like Valente does in her work. If you are inclined toward tales of the fantastic, toward adventure and poetry, if you need something completely cosy to read by the fire as it turns to autumn, run along to your nearby bookshop, or to Powells, and start your journey into Valente's Fairyland(s).

Here's a little taste—an excerpt from her beautiful short story La Serenissma, in the Journal of Mythic Arts.

"I remember, when I must remember anything, that it was always wet. Never since I was a girl did my feet grace a stair but that the embroidery of my shoes was soaked through, red thread to black, green to black, blue to black: rain–sodden, rimmed with street–mold. The doused hems of my skirts lapped behind me, leaving a trail of old rain, and I moved through the city like an exotic snail. I wore combs of bronze crab–claws in my hair, which was even then more silver than blonde, and on my fingers were knuckle–rings of coral, and around my waist was ever a belt of pearls. Yet still I walked alone on those jagged streets and no man would hinder me, for the snail of Venice moved through her city in the days of the eleventh Doge, the Idiot Soldier, who could neither read nor write, who compressed an incomprehensible cosmos of parchment beneath his great silver seal, and who was also my father. He called me Uliva, for the endless dusty groves of olives that waved in the sea wind, and it is Uliva who writes these things, who writes these things in the dark, upon strips of birch bark flattened with iron, who writes these things in cuttlefish–ink and sturgeon blood, whose shoes are now brighter than any she owned on the canal–bridges, but still wet, as wet as they have ever been.

He was determined that I and my brother would read where he did not. Giovanni, so much handsomer than I, with his black eyes and his manfully scarred lip, was eager and apt, always a good boy, always the child I was not: heir, thinker, soldier. I wandered canal–side and stared into the water, trying to see the cart–strewn bottom at the end of all that green. I plaited my hair, and unplaited it, staring out the window at the melted golden sky. I spoke little enough that for a time I was given up as mute. I plucked a psaltery that had been cut for me from yellowish olivewood, tooled with silver chisels, and which sounded like a woman weeping. My fingers grew bloody with playing, but I did not see them. I did not see the sun rise or set — I wanted only to hear that keening voice grieve beneath my hands. I did not want to read the dry, rasping, hissing pages my father set down before me. I did not like Latin, or French, or my mother. She was Istrian, her hair dark and coarse, and made love to historians in the high palace rooms. I heard them by the half–moon, crying out genealogies in the garrets. My father Pietro heard them too, and listened eagerly for silence, as he took the historians when she was finished, and kissed their ink–stained fingers while he begged them to call him wise. My childhood was a jangle of archival ecstasy."

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