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Palimpsest

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3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,543 Ratings  ·  638 Reviews
Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse — a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tatt ...more
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published August 15th 2010 by Brilliance Audio (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nataliya
Did I, a brand-spankin'-new gynecologist, just read a book about a sexually transmitted city??? Yeah, I guess so much for that whole 'don't bring your work home' thing...

"To touch a person... to sleep with a person... is to become a pioneer," she whispered then, "a frontiersman at the edge of their private world, the strange, incomprehensible world of their interior, filled with customs you could never imitate, a language which sounds like your own but is really totally foreign, knowable only to
...more
Ian Vinogradus
A Book of Marvelous Things

"I was so alone. I had only books and dreams and brushes then."

The four protagonists, two male, two female, who live variously in California, New York, Rome and Kyoto, have their own separate obsessions - trains, keys, bees and books – but don’t yet know true love. They crave "the low vibratory tones of shared obsession... real lovers, the kind that make coffee for each other and read the same books".

In this current world, they are taught two lessons: the source o
...more
Kelly

Despite everything I am about to tell you, I really had several reasons to not like this book.

For one thing, the plot was really a bare excuse for one. It seemed like it was really more of an excuse for Valente to roam about at will, locking her mind's eye on new treasures to describe in the world she'd created. A search for character development yields little. The characters in this book have little 'development' to speak of. They are the incarnation, for the most part, of that Rice line- "Peo
...more
Brad
It is a reverence, a sting of the holy, as rich and powerful and desired as honey, and the book rolls on the tongues of paupers and kings alike, like fire, like hard cocks, like the welcoming embrace of a whole city. Indeed, this book is a love poem written by and scratched out by the city, itself, of Palimpsest, the fae kingdom of adulthood, of loss, abandonment, of scars and mutilations, of loveless sex and all the dirty waters of the world, of the ripe and blossoming heat of four who will fin ...more
Carol.
Let's be honest. The reason this book has sat on my shelf for months is because it just isn't my style. Three months later and only halfway through, and I find it time to resignedly face defeat. I love Valente's lush prose; the vivid detail that appeals to all my senses and perfectly conjures a scene. I just have a hard time with the underlying sexually transmitted disease/desire imagery, and am finding the characters a challenge to care about in their obsession.

She--or I--might have bit off a
...more
JW
Sep 13, 2015 JW rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, gave-up
There is a subgenre of fantasy (although some people would try to kill me for that classification) called "New Weird". In my experience what this means is "interesting ideas executed in the most boring fashion possible." Palimpsest is exactly that. In particular, New Weird authors seem to get so caught up in their world building they forget to develop any kind of a plot, or at least spend so much time describing said world building that the plot doesn't appear until well into the book.

I don't li
...more
Ben Babcock
Books create whole other worlds, and nowhere is this phenomenon more explicit than in fantasy and science fiction. More than just telling a story, great books transport the reader to a new setting, one where the rules might be different. It takes impossibilities and makes them possible. The author, then, is more than a storyteller—he or she is an architect, a craftsman executing a careful and intricate design. This is what we often mean when we speak of worldbuilding.

Depending upon how the term
...more
Jacob
Jul 08, 2010 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
July 2010

Palimpsest. What a city. Entered only in dreams, its streets and districts are marked in the flesh. Its maps appear tattooed on the skin after sex. Copulation with other people (victims? sufferers?) who bear the marks grants more access; every orgasm is a ticket to another street corner, another station. It is the strangest of venereal diseases: the city as STD.

What I want to know is, how did Catherynne M. Valente get to this before China Miéville?

It’s probably for the best. Where New C
...more
Anja Kefala
Aug 18, 2016 Anja Kefala rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This is the book I read for January and will likely be re-reading many moons from now.

It is also the only book in my library for which I will give a rating. Valente isn't for everyone (I completely understand that), however for those for whom she is not, she gets very harshly rated. I want books like this to continue to be published, because I am a selfish reader, and so I will give it a high rating to show there is a demand.

Palimpsest can be best described as the aesthetic elements of Night Cir
...more
Stefan
Aug 11, 2009 Stefan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stefan by: Camille
Shelves: fantasy, library-loan
The first thing that strikes you about this book is the gorgeous prose. Every sentence is crafted with the utmost care, resulting in a novel that almost reads like poetry. It simply begs to be read out loud. I've read many books that attempt this kind of lush prose, but Palimpsest is one of the most successful and most beautiful.

Palimpsest is a sexually transmitted city. People who have been there have a small tattoo - a piece of the city's map - somewhere on their body. Sleep with them and you
...more
Jen
This is urban fantasy where the main character is a "fantasy" city. You can't get to Palimpsest unless you've slept with someone who's been there. You can't get to any other parts of the city unless you sleep with someone else.

It's an intoxicating read. For the continuing presence of sex in the narrative, this is not a romance. It's mentioned, even described, but it's a vehicle by which the human characters are able to find their way around a city where they seem to be meant to be.

Like The Orpha
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Anything I say about this book just will not do it justice. It can't describe how I found myself holding my breath at writing that felt so intimate, almost like I shouldn't be reading it. Completely immersive and beautiful and disturbing and I can't wait to go back and read everything else she has written.

Kind of like if Jeanette Winterson and Neil Gaiman wrote a book together, after reading The Pillow Book.

I hadn't heard of Valente yet, and only read her because this book was nominated for the
...more
Sandra
May 03, 2012 Sandra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, ebook
I have to think about this one a while. What a weird experience.

9/21 - after mulling a while, I decided on 3 stars because I both loved and hated it. I decided I had to read it almost stream of consciousness as it's written, since stopping to ponder the words detracted from the mood. At times I was annoyed, irritated, aggravated by the characters. At other times I felt an almost unbearable soaring of spirit and longing along with the characters. At times I almost stopped reading wondering why I
...more
Robyn
Jan 30, 2016 Robyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Definitely not for everyone, but read this if you want incredible, fanciful prose and entrance into a world defined by Valente's capacious imagination. An incredible journey to a city real and unreal.
Tracy


I finally finished this. I've been reading a little here and a little there for weeks and I finally finished this. I think it took me so long to read for the reasons Nataliya described in her review, the book alternately pulls you in and pushes you away. It is so filled with loss at times it was unbearable to go on. But I'm glad I did. For one thing the writing in this book is exquisite. Catherine Valente is a poet and it shows:

"She had dreamed heavily and the dream clung to her still-November
...more
Sandi
Palimpsest is one seriously weird book. Consider the concept: If you have sex with someone with a map tattoo, you will "dream" that you are in the city of Palimpsest. Palimpsest is a really f'd up place, but people are desperate to go back. They are so desperate to go back and visit other parts of the city that they will have sex with anybody who has part of the map tattooed on them, sexual attraction and orientation have nothing to do with anything.

While there are a lot of sexual encounters in
...more
Charity
Dec 30, 2010 Charity rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: purchased
So 4 people have random sex with people they don't know. In doing so, each contracts an "STD", a piece of a map tattooed on their body of a city existing in some parallel universe. They each discover that through sex with other people with this same sexually contracted tattoo, they can visit (in their dreams) whatever parts of the city are tattooed on the other person's body.

it's never explicitly stated, but apparently only unprotected sex will lead to dreams that will take them to the parallel
...more
Michael Alexander
Dec 28, 2009 Michael Alexander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is REALLY interesting, and a lot smuttier than I expected. The sense of all these people with a collective obsession that pierces the normal bounds of sexual decorum, and the way that such a bond DOESN'T necessarily mean they treat each other with understanding or warmth or kindness--now THAT is an interesting set of ideas.

Separately, this first book of Valente's I've read has some fascinating language. I definitely see what people are saying when they put her in the "really out there
...more
Giovanna
I usually love Valente's books. They're not for everybody, of that I'm sure, but they usually work for me. Not this one.

I actually liked the idea, even if it might sound a bit too bizarre, but I think that it shows that this is one of Valente's first works.

Basically the only way to enter the city of Palimpsest is to have sex with strangers. That's how you get a mark on your skin, which portrays the part of the city you were in and that you have to pass onto other people. However that's not eno
...more
Sarah Anne
Do you guys know that I almost missed out on this wonder? Somewhere, and I can't find where, I saw it labeled as erotica and I have a very strong aversion to that genre. But then this came up in a book group and I do really love Valente's work, so I decided to give it a try.

This is a long way of wandering around the fact that I almost missed out not on a book, but an Absolutely Phenomenal Experience. I loved it. I loved every single second of this book. The prose is gorgeous, lush, and evocative
...more
Meg
Mar 12, 2012 Meg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
To summarize:

Pros: Crocodile conga lines. Logophile’s dream. Rampant potential for “that’s what she said” jokes. Rampant potential for terrible puns. Barry Manilow. Euphemisms. So multicultural. Pirate frogs. Rum. Talking animals. Taking everything out of context.

Cons: Frog psychic wrapped in ragged fox fur - PETA cries, foxes die. Bugs. Gregor Samsa. Ear sex. No lols. Strange analogies. Train vagina visuals. Sexually Transmitted Tattoos. Elitism.


Usually book cover summaries are so trite and b
...more
Kim
Mar 15, 2009 Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
This book is very, very strange, and very, very wonderful---but from Valente, how could we expect anything less? It's the sort of book that begs you not to pick up another one immediately, and I fully expect myself to stumble over things and walk into walls as I try to figure out what I just read. Palimpsest is a city of living trains, animal/human hybrids, and mechanical bees; those lucky enough to visit believe they have dreamt it, but wake with strange map-like markings somewhere on their fle ...more
Loederkoningin
"Sei pressed her cheek against the cold glass; strips of black mountains tore by under latern-blue clouds beyond her wide window. She knew a man was watching her - the way men on trains always watched her. The train car rocked gently from side to side, hushing its charges like a worried mother. She chewed on the ends of her dark blue hair. A stupid childhood habit, but Sei couldn't let it go. Her skin prickled as the man's eyes slid over her back."

The poetic prose is so beautiful that Palimpsest
...more
Althea Ann
Sep 28, 2013 Althea Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My book club selection for the month.
I'd heard Valente described as a steampunk author, but I really
wouldn't classify this as being in that genre. I've yet to acquire her
other books, but I'm on the lookout for them!
Outside of our reality, there is a city called Palimpsest. Those who
have visited the city mysteriously acquire a tattoo-like mark
somewhere on their skin - and an inexplicable desire, almost an
addiction, driving them to return. The only way the city can be
entered is through sex with an
...more
Jacquelynn
Intriguing idea and beautiful prose that borders poetry. Also fascinating concept. However, I don't get much mileage from Palimpsest-there's just not much re-readability in it.

Valente's style of writing is dreamlike, floating on its own wing of metaphors and elaborate description. This is enhanced by (or exacerbated by, depending on the style of writing you enjoy) the presentation of scenes, which cuts in and out of each character's life, rather than coherently connecting them until later. By th
...more
Andrea
Oh, Palimpsest. I still don’t think I can pronounce you correctly and this book left me exhausted, a bit confused and more than a little disturbed. Another review described Palimpsest as “clockpunk” which I misread as “cockpunk”. Honestly, I think cockpunk is fitting for this book. A dream city that haunts the days of its visitors, sexually transmitted tattoos of a maze of city streets that grant access only to what’s pictured, leading those addicted to the dark mysteries to seek out others to s ...more
Alexa
Mar 09, 2016 Alexa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fab-16
This is exquisitely gloriously beautiful. Valente manages to capture the seductive horror that faery used to have. She writes like a poet; and it’s easy to just get completely caught up in her imagery. On one level this is a novel about the “otherland,” that place where humans go at their peril, the land of faery, with all of its horror and seductiveness – the way it has historically always drawn humans, lured them, but always at the most horrific costs. And on the other hand it is a novel about ...more
Chris
Aug 11, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anthony
Jan 22, 2011 Anthony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Palimpsest is not a mindless beach read. It's not trope-filling SF, the kind of thing you can sort of let your attention wander and still know what's going on. Palimpsest the novel requires your attention the way Palimpsest the city requires the devotion of its inhabitants and visitors. You can choose, like one minor character in the book, to walk away if the work is too weird for you. Honestly, I almost did walk away. As much as I've enjoyed Ms. Valente's short stories, I was on vacation and di ...more
sologdin
May 28, 2012 sologdin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: speculative
Acknowlegdes that "the source of all suffering is desire" (106) while charting out an immigration narrative wherein the primary object of desire is not precisely defined, other than the act of immigration itself. The narrative has no need to explain, and does not explain, the reasons that everyone is so keen to get to the eponymous city--it's lacanian objet petit a. And it drives the prospective immigrants insane, despite the lack of definition, so much so that they police their own membership f ...more
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September/November Parallels 1 13 Aug 02, 2014 10:43PM  
The F-word: Anyone read this - Palimpsest 4 35 Aug 01, 2013 06:34AM  
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Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and cam ...more
More about Catherynne M. Valente...

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“Living alone,' November whispered, 'is a skill, like running long distance or programming old computers. You have to know parameters, protocols. You have to learn them so well that they become like a language: to have music always so that the silence doesn't overwhelm you, to perform your work exquisitely well so that your time is filled. You have to allow yourself to open up until you are the exact size of the place you live, no more or else you get restless. No less, or else you drown. There are rules; there are ways of being and not being.” 93 likes
“...For grace may only be found briefly, and always in the midst of madness.” 31 likes
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