Book One of the Fairyland stories
By: Catherynne M. Valente
Date Finished: 09.15.2013
He’s such a lot of bother. You’re better off — theatrical folk are nothing but a bundle of monologues and anxiety headaches.
Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to remember to catch the world in its changing and change with it.
I have tried to be a generous narrator and care for my girl as best I can. I cannot help that readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.
Children’s literature is complete.
Everything that happened before this point only served to pave the way for this book and I cannot imagine how any future book could surpass it. While there is still a short list of other books I consider flawless, this is the pinnacle of storytelling. It hearkens back to an older style of children’s lit with more danger and more heightened language. This is not a quick read and it’s not exactly an easy read, but the language is immeasurably beautiful. By today’s standards, this is solidly Young Adult fiction, although I imagine the emotional impact was greater reading as an adult.
I won’t summarize the plot because we’re all intimately familiar with it. Comparisons to other books are obvious (Valente even mentions them directly in interviews and indirectly in the book), but I won’t cheapen the majesty of this book by mentioning the others by name. The point of Fairyland is not an original plot, but the subtle, almost psychological deviations from those ingrained structures. Valente is extremely savvy in the way she subverts conventions with her self-referential narrator* and a main character that carries some knowledge of narrative requirements into Fairyland, being an avid reader herself.
And forget about mechanics — the imagery is simply the loveliest.**
There is a deep sense of theatricality to the book. I knew from the first chapter title, “Exeunt on a Leopard” that Valente had worked in a theatre at some point (sure enough, according to her online bio, she was an actress for at least a short time). There are a few other distinctly theatre references, but more than that, the tone has a showman’s quality. Think a heavy velvet curtain and musty footlights. Think colorful costumes and elaborate scenery. It’s bright and larger than life, but captivates you, making you utterly believe in magic. Some of the narration even gives the reader a bit of a backstage tour. It’s as if Valente shows us a few ropes and pulleys while reserving the most impressive smoke and mirror secrets for herself. It’s devilishly crafty and I can’t get enough of it.
One and a half complaints (I know, by now you’re thinking I’ve lost the ability to be critical) and they pertain to a few of the names. The main character is named September. Now, this oddball name works splendidly in Fairyland, but it’s hard to reconcile it with what we know of her parents and her life in Omaha. I also had difficulty recognizing this as a person’s name even far into the book (although I do enjoy that I ended up reading this in the month of September). My half complaint is that a friend she makes there is named Saturday. I have no problem with this being his name except that it’s paired with September. To have a month and a day of the week both beginning with the letter ‘S’ used together as proper names was about as confusing as the sentence I just created. But September’s a perfectly perfect protagonist and well deserving of our love, so we shall forgive this inconvenience, yes?
At the end of the day: The book I’ve been waiting for my entire life
*a la The Eyes of the Dragon***
**The Night Circus*** is the only viable competitor in the imagery contest.
***I know I said I wouldn’t make comparisons, but these are not plot-related, rather tone-related, so I deem this acceptable.