- Hardcover: 184 pages
- Publisher: Wildside Press; First Edition edition (April 17, 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: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,786,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Labyrinth Hardcover – April 17, 2006
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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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This book tells the story of a girl stuck in a Labyrinth. She is a Wanderer and wanders through the Labyrinth fighting madness the whole way. She complete various tasks and meets strange creatures all in a quest to escape the Labyrinth. She is constantly trying to outrun Doors, that threaten to devour here.
This book reads like a crazy dream. At some times you get caught up the beautiful and poignant descriptions and loose the storyline for a bit, but Valente always tugs you back to the story at hand. I can't say enough how beautiful, artistic, and wonderfully abstract the language throughout this novel is; I absolutely loved it.
There are times where you can get a bit confused about what is happening, most of these times coincide with the dream-like periods of madness that the main character goes through. The first madness period had me befuddled, but after the second bit of madness I figured out what was going on and then was struck by how cleverly Valente is representing this character's insanity. The story snaps back to a more traditional form as the character meets up with and is forced to converse with various strange creatures in the Labyrinth. These portions of the story are written just as beautifully but less abstractly and take the reader through a more traditional fairy tale like plot.
I was struck by how this story reminded me both of The Jabberwocky (in the somewhat made-up words that were used throughtou) and also of Alice in Wonderland (as the main character struggles through a world that doesn't make sense).
I love different things and beautifully dark stories and this book was both of those things in spades. That is not to say this story will be for everyone. If you don't like poetry or abstractness in your stories I wouldn't read this book. A lot of the story is woven of analogies and words that don't make clear-cut sense. If you are the type of person who likes absolutes and well-defined stories and characters this probably won't be your cup of tea. I can see how this story and the writing style would be just plain too strange for some folks.
Overall a beautiful, creative, and different read that I found to be exquisite. Valente is quickly turning into one of those authors that can do no wrong in my eyes. I feel like everything I read from her is strange, wonderful and absolute golden.
The Labyrinth is Catherynne Valente's first novel. The female Narrator is a self-described Seeker, seeking nothing-in-particular because there is nothing but the Labyrinth - no beginning, end, start, finish or center - this she just accepts. She simply keeps moving, avoiding Doors that hunt like predators to swallow their prey to an unknown fate. But an ice-fishing, pipe-smoking Angel curses her with a Purpose that poisons her self-image and existence, and puts her on a quest-that-is-not-a-quest. The narrator's appearance shifts forcibly, influenced by the variety of landscapes and her experiences.
It is apparent early on that this is not linear story-telling, and you begin to wonder if underlying it is a disturbing madness in the mind of the narrator. How far deep and far gone is she? Is she in fact any more important a character than any she encounters, or the Labyrinth itself? Are they one and the same? Phrases echo and descriptions overlap.
While the Narrator's tone is somber, fragmented and often severe, her interaction with the Carroll-esque creatures in the Labyrinth are quite whimsical. Most amusing being the Crocodile Prophet evangelizing the gospel of the Man and the Bar. ("If you could only understand that there is only one Man, and only one Bar, and they walk into each other, and they are the same.") Most important, perhaps, the Trickster Monkey.
The novel is fantastically word-thick and abstract, poetry parading as prose. The metaphors and descriptions are startling, vibrant, puzzling, sometimes even crude. At first I thought the book ponderous and pretentious, but I got sucked in. I can't help but admire a writer who can allow me to get lost in the richness of one simple paragraph. At some point you fall into the rhythm of her writing and it becomes more and more beautiful. By the end, there is much to ponder and drawn conclusions from, but I'll refrain from sharing my own.
I want to loan this out and share the beauty in this novel, though I'm not sure I know anyone personally who has the taste and inclination to read it. Read if you have a poet's heart and more than an inkling of madness.