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The Labyrinth Hardcover – April 6, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Valente's surreal, image-driven first novel, centered on the Greek myth of the Minotaur, a female Theseus details the bizarre landscape of the Minotaur's maze and its unique flora and fauna. These include a wisdom-dispensing monkey guide, a mystery-solving "Meaningful Lobster" straight out of Lewis Carroll and numerous other creatures who evoke works of classic fantasy and mythology. The pursuing entities in the claustrophobic maze-world are not the bull-headed monsters of legend but doorways to other dimensions, which the characters spend much of their time avoiding. Most of the action is internal, as characters swap life stories, exchange experiences and try to solve their way out of puzzles philosophically. The author's poetic prose simmers with paraphrases from Blake, Milton, Shakespeare and other literary heavyweights, and this often gives her descriptions stimulating depth and richness. Sometimes, though, her sentences groan under the weight of images awkwardly layered and fused to express the unique chaos of this private universe. Readers who luxuriate in the telling of a tale and savor phrases where every word has significance will enjoy the challenge of this fantasy. Others may find its maze of language an impenetrable mystery.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Prime Books (April 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1894815653
  • ISBN-13: 978-1894815659
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,360,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Valentina on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm not a big reviewer, but that is also because I used to read for a living. You get sick of talking about books. But this one is different from the run of the mill and it deserves a review.

First let me say, (because this is a small press book) I was entirely satisfied and more with the physical copy itself. It is beautiful. You have nothing to worry about there.

now on to the STORY....

If you're interested in this book, you're not seeking a 'typical' read. Don't expect to learn about someone's terrible divorce or quarky family. This is not that kind of book. It is more experimental but I found that invitational, not offputting. I found myself itching to underline certain parts of it and to mark it up in general just so I remembered my thoughts as I read through it. In short: it is rather inspiring. You are guarenteed to have a strong opinion on the work.

The story is of a woman who has swallowed the Compass Rose and has been traveling through a Labyrinth filled with snapping, dangerous doors that threaten to take her off the true pathway. As you follow her, you are treated to glimpses of who she might have been at one time. These tangents are fascinating...the one that stands out in my mind the most is "I came of age during the plague years." Yet despite these tempting offshoots, I didn't feel cheated following the narrator. I was compelled to see her destination.

Valente uses a lot of strong images and sometimes s contrasting images to convey her vision of the Labyrinth and its inhabitants. Her style is distinct and intentional and her voice is very feminine. You will either love it or hate it, but she will never commit the crime of leaving you uncertain.

I checked out her website.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Emily Monroe on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have finished The Labyrinth by Cathrynne M. Valente. I devoured it, like a Door. It was beautiful, a lyrical epic poem in prose. The language was amazing, it gave me a tingly feeling in my spine, and in my throat. I know some who might have thought it was excessive, but this story could only have been told in language such as that. An ordinary story demands ordinary language, and this is no ordinary story. It's an extraordinary journey through psychologically charged image after image.


I highly recommend this book, for anyone who loves the English language, and the myriad of ways in which it can be used. I recommend this book for anyone who loves mythology, and I'm going right away to email my mythology professor to tell him he should read it, too. I recommend this book for anyone who loves things that are out of the ordinary, because this book is extraordinary.

I warn you, once you read this book, your perception of reality won't be the same again. Life will seem dull and grey compared to the vibrant visions and characters that Valente describes.

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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By William R. Granberry on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the world of literature, there's a lot of the same- a lot of mediocrity, a lot of good, and a lot of bad. The fact is, however, that in all that diversity, there's an awful lot of uniformity. Books, no matter their quality, tend to be whatever they are in one of a limited number of ways. While the convenience of categorization and familiarity might be nice, sometimes it's nice to have a little departure. Soon after I recieved an advance copy of The Labyrinth for review, I realized that I was going to go on a little trip.

Enter The Labyrinth. There are some books whose language can evoke images that transcend mere vivid visuals- they can inspire waves of emotion and empathy with its protagonists that wash over you in unexpected, engrossing ways. It sets forth on an unconventional and perhaps daunting literary course, one that demonstrates a powerful command of language, as well as a rapt knowledge of the classics. The style is poetic but not poetry, written in cantos so beautifully yet succinctly constructed that they seem as the lost lyrics of an arcane epic song. Valente does so with such captivating skill that the book quickly becomes difficult to put down, if your first appraisal might tell you that this is not your cup of tea.

It tells the story of the Walker, once a woman, no longer so, on a surreal quest in the underworld-like Maze. There, the Walker encounters a host of the surreal- predatory Doors that consume those who enter, strange talking beasts, and odd helpers reminiscent of the archetype established by myths modern and ancient. The tale is told with refreshing femininity, but it is a savage, wild femininity that often disturbs as much as it enchants.

As you might have determined by now, the book is damned intense, and damned different.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Catherynne M. Valente, The Labyrinth (Prime, 2003)

I'm not sure there's anything I can say about Catherynne M. Valente's writing that I haven't already said. Which gives the irony of Valente's first novel being my fifth review of her work a little extra added piquancy. Here's a fresh, new voice in fiction, and I've already told you all about how great that fresh new voice is in my reviews of Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams (her second novel) and The Grass-Cutting Sword (her third). Yeah, I didn't get round to reading this one till later, more fool me.

This one gives us a nameless narrator (often compared to Alice in Wonderland, though by my estimation it's the Alice of American McGee's videogame or Svankmajer's brilliant film, not the one originally concocted by Carroll) trapped in a labyrinth-- of her own devising? One can never tell-- and the oddments she meets as she traverses it. It's a quest narrative, but a quest narrative turned quite on its head, where the hero doesn't have any inkling of the goal, the collected detritus of the meetings with helpful entities seems to have no value whatsoever, and no good deed goes unpunished. It's a tough life.

The plot, though, is not the reason to read this, as it never is with a Valente novel; you read Valente for the richness of the writing, the startling images that somehow never stretch the bounds of believability no matter how outrageous they get, the tempering and tweaking of old stories and mythic types that have been begging for such for centuries, if only we could hear it. Valente is one of those who can, and should be revered for same. *****
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