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Palimpsest Paperback – February 24, 2009

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"An Unwelcome Quest"
Ever since Martin Banks and his fellow computer geeks discovered reality is just software, they've been happily jaunting back and forth through time. Who knew that rotten Todd would escape, then conjure a game packed with wolves, wastelands and other harrowing hazards--and trap his hapless former hack-mates inside it? Find out more author Scott Meyer
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Palimpsest + The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden + The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 367 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra; Original edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553385763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553385762
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Four strangers are bound together in adventure, love and occasional sorrow in this parable from Tiptree winner Valente (The Orphan's Tales). The city of Palimpsest exists somewhere outside our reality, accessible only during the sleep that follows sex. The immigrants to Palimpsest, marked forever by the tattoo-like impression of a map on their skin, seek out one another for real-world sexual adventures that function as passports to new otherworldly quarters. In outstandingly beautiful prose, Valente describes grotesque, glamorous creatures sometimes neither human nor animal, alive nor dead, and mortal travelers who pursue poignant personal quests to replace the things (and people) they've lost. Valente's fondness for digression at times makes for a difficult read, and her fable of quest and loneliness is less an engrossing fairy tale and more a meticulous travelogue of a stranger's dream. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Everyone lucky or doomed enough to go to Palimpsest, a city visited only in dreams, awakes bearing a tattooed map of its neighborhoods. Each of four travelers linked by ink stains in a frog-headed fortune-teller’s shop finds an unimaginable fate in the city, such that waking life becomes a search for readmission to Palimpsest. Sei dreams of trains, November of mechanical bees, Ludovico of the unwritten etymology of the city, and Oleg of his drowned sister. Palimpsest becomes what each most desires in ways only a city of sentient trains, mechanical insects, and shark-headed generals could. History unfolds as the four learn the ways of Palimpsest and discover the price of becoming more than tourists. Each has found something he or she lost in the waking world that is reimagined in the ways of Palimpsest, and nearly everyone who goes there yearns to emigrate. Overflowing with poetic images and epic repetition, Valente’s story washes us to an unexpected shore. --Regina Schroeder

Customer Reviews

The author seems incapable of writing a single sentence without using some form of metaphor or simile.
Karen A. Bruce
Unfortunately, this also makes the first part hard to get into because the story threads don't seem to gel together.
Sniffly Kitty
Valente's writing too is magic, painting a vibrant fantasy which is shadowed by beautifully realistic characters.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Michael Phillips on March 30, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente tells the story of four lost and lonely travelers as they journey to a strange and beautiful city, a city that exists beyond the veil of dreams. Imagine a place of surreal delights, of bizarre masquerade balls and holy churches in which odd creatures worship in utter silence. This is Palimpsest, a city that is neither dream nor reality for those who stumble into its borders. Of course, to visit isn't enough, never enough. Visitors long for residency, they desire to make Palimpsest their reality. Such desires, however, come at a cost.

For reasons we don't early know, people exist in our world who bear marks on their skin, black tattoos that appear to be pieces of an otherworldly map. These people are gateways to Palimpsest, to enter involves sex and the heavy sleep after orgasm. Those who sleep after climax in our world wake to wander the streets of Palimpsest, the part of the map on their partner's body, except in the case of first time visitors. First timers are required to visit a certain fortune-teller, a woman with the head of a frog. She sees clients only in groups of four, these four are then bound together, a family of sorts. Whenever in Palimpsest, no matter how far apart, these four strangers intimately share each other's experiences. They taste the same tastes, they feel each other's pleasure and pain. When morning comes to Palimpsest, visitors then wake in our world. New-comers also wake with a mark of their own, a new gateway to this gorgeous and sometimes cruel city. Permanent residence is elusive, but not impossible. The novel follows four characters who have lost something in our world and desperately hope to find it in Palimpsest.

Valente has created something absolutely brilliant in Palimpsest.
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Format: Paperback
Plot Summary: Four scattered individuals enter Palimpsest after having mindless, thoughtless, impulsive sex with a person bearing a map-like tattoo (ah-hem, with no consideration for gender). This unexplainable land feels disjointed and distorted like a dream. Nothing is tangible or nailed down, and horrors and pleasures wash over our characters in equal measure. Once someone visits Palimpsest, their skin is marked forever with the map tatoo, and some unfortunates get it smack on their face. I particularly envy the lady who got it on her tongue.

It's been a while since I've encountered a book I couldn't, or wouldn't finish, but when reading feels like a chore, rather than a pleasure, it's time to move on. I have a love-hate feeling for this novel, because part of me is awed by the pure poetry of the images Catherynne Valente brings forth. Some of her sentences should be framed and mounted on a wall, like art. They were simply gorgeous.

But, and there is a big BUT here, I never felt like there was something I could grab onto. I was lost in this mad, beautiful, horrible dream, and I just wanted to wake up and put my feet on solid ground again. Valente never lets the reader ground herself on terra firma, or get a sense that here is one world, and there is the other. The two worlds mix and blend together until I was dizzy and wanted to throw up.

The writing is very close to pure poetry, and it drove me mad trying to piece together the disconnected fragments of this story. It's a hard, hard read, and I need so much more structure in a story to feel happy there. I can't help wishing that the earth-bound parts of the story reflected a hard, cold reality, and thereby provide a juxtaposition between the living and dreaming. It was an intriguing vision, but one that I could not hold onto.
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Format: Paperback
Four strangers, each suffering the loss of something in their life, are drawn together in a city called Palimpsest, a place that they can only visit in dreams brought on by sex with a fellow immigrant to the city. Palimpsest is a word of magic and opportunity, but it demands great payment if they hope to live there forever. Valente's writing too is magic, painting a vibrant fantasy which is shadowed by beautifully realistic characters. Although it feels somewhat short, it is a beautiful book which transports the reader, and altogether deeply enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

If you have read Valente's other works, then you will love this--and have probably already read it. (As will soon be obvious, I've so far only read her previous series The Orphan's Tales.) Her voice lyrical and richly textured, and it rings true in the vibrant tapestry which is Palimpsest. It has also matured somewhat since the Orphan's Tales: the metaphors are better integrated, and so the text is smoother and less repetitive. Her story-telling has also improved: there is a better balance, here, between the glimpses into Palimpsest's hidden corners and the overarching plot that brings the protagonists together, and so the reader is dazzled and emotionally engaged in careful measure. The characters glow, unique and faulted and inspiring. And of course the world that she builds is magic, the sort of magic which demands blood payment for the greatest miracles. Palimpsest is grittier and more tightly focused than Orphan's Tales, but if you have loved her style before, you will love it again here. And if you have never picked up Valente's work, this is still a good place to begin--her magic will sweep you away.

For all that, Palimpsest isn't perfect.
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More About the Author

Catherynne M. Valente is an author, poet, and sometime critic who has been known to write as many as six impossible things before breakfast. She is to blame for over a dozen works of fiction and poetry, including The Orphan's Tales, Palimpsest, Deathless, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. She has won the Tiptree Award, the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Lambda Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award for best web fiction. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, an enormous cat, and a slightly less enormous accordion.

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