Valente, Catherynne M. -- In the Night Garden

Dizzying -- well, it's not a novel, it's a collection of -- no, it's not a collection of stories; it's not even a cycle of stories. (It's a tree of stories, says the inner geek.) A young outcast girl lives in the palace garden; she was born with stories tattooed across her face. A boy creeps outside to listen to her. She tells a story about a prince, who meets a witch, who tells the story of her grandmother, who once learned a story... and so on. It's nested, not an infinite regress; we jump up and down, over and over again. Some stories span many pages, wrapped around the stories inside them; some are only a page or a paragraph. None are related, until the connections start to appear -- a familiar name here, a returning character there -- not always consistently.

Maybe this is what Hal Duncan was aiming at. If so, Valente gets it right. These are not fragments, but stories, each one sparkling, each with a teller and a beginning and an end (or as much of an end as some stories get). As with Ink, I had trouble keeping track of the overall structure. (In fact, I found it hard to read the volume in long takes; I broke it up with other books.) Unlike with Ink, this didn't hurt the reading a bit. Nothing is incomplete if you forget a name or a role. The inner geek wants to diagram and hyperlink the lot, and I imagine somebody's inner geek already has. But it's not necessary.

Imaginative; colorful; dense with unexpected words; full of tales from all over the map, fairy tales to Scheherazade to fanciful Roman zoology, all twisted into spirals and set loose on each other. A second volume has been published, which I will devour after another break.

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