Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

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Hardcover, 247 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Feiwel & Friends
Source: Purchased

“One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.”

I own quite a few of Valente books but until now I hadn’t read a single title by her. Despite this, strangely enough, I was quite sure that she would become one of my favourite authors whenever I did get around to reading her. At this point in time, I have only read one title (this one) by her but I am confident enough to say that my hopes weren’t in vain.

If you’ve read Jasper Fforde, you will be acquainted by his astonishing creativity. Valente’s books and style are very different from Fforde’s but she evinces a similar intensity in her creativity that honestly leaves me overjoyed. Let’s take The Girl Who (for short) for example.

The story has a rather ordinary premise: an ordinary girl goes off on an adventure to fairyland, finds a quest, completes the quest, and stuff. We’ve read other books with a similar premise, liked other books that had almost the same story. What sets Valente’s book apart is, for one thing, the writing.

The complexity of the prose, some would claim, is at odds with the age of the intended audience for this novel. I think that somewhere along the years we have somehow managed to forget that books are supposed to not just entertain but also challenge. When I was a wee Nafiza and learning English, I used to look up words and gulp them down, feeling their edges in my mouth, learning their meanings and using them (often incorrectly, I suspect) in sentences. Valente’s diction is sophisticated and she makes no compromises in watering it down for the young audience. Her lyrical style is vivid and descriptive but rather than slip into purple prose, Valente displays an a propensity for a deceptively absurdist events and characters.

September is bored at home. Her mother is at work and her father went to war. When the wind asks her if she’d like to go on an adventure, she jumps at the chance. What follows is intense, brutal, funny, and wild. September goes to fairyland, meets a dragon who believes one of his parents was a library, a Marid called Saturday and a Marquess who most likely is evil.

The fae are complex and fluid, changing with the seasons and their contexts. Saturday, the Marid (a type of djinni), exists without being constrained by temporal reality, Autumn is a place where harvest feasts occur nightly, a herd of wild bicycles for September and her friends to tame–to save a pouka, September gives her shadow away and in return, her father, a shark, saves her when she needs saving.

Valente weaves different kinds of fae (Japanese Tsukumogami) to create a fully inhabited world that will tempt anyone to dream.

And ah, the primary narrative–the conflict at the heart of the story is so brilliant that I cannot say anything for fear I will give it away. Just know this, if you like the fae, you should read this book and give free reign to your imagination.

The illustrations by Ana Juan (who also did the covers) adds to the story, making it much more immediate and engaging.

Read this.

 

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