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3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  3,196 ratings  ·  589 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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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
Ian Agadada-Davida
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

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
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
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
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
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
Aug 11, 2009 Stefan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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

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
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
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
Michael Alexander
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
Catherine Siemann
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 08, 2014 Aubrey marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Aubrey by:
This is not a book I could get into despite what I had heard about it and despite how many people recommended it to me. It did not appeal to my personal taste.
Paul Eckert
Palimpsest is a sexually transmitted city. To get there, you must have sex with someone with the mark of the city. Each person holds the "key" to a different part of Palimpsest, and after you've slept with them you gain access to "their" part of the city.

Sounds like an awesome video game, right?

Each visitor to the city is linked to three other people. "Palimpsest" is the story of the four linked people (even if they don't know it at first).

The characters are more or less the product of their o
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I'm stuck between a four and five star rating for this song. I did really like it, but because it took me so long to finish it, I don't know if I can say it completely "gripped" me. It's not a very long book, but maybe it's more my focus and environment that affected my reading of this book, rather than the book itself.

The way the book is sectioned makes it easy to remember the four main characters (in our world, anyway) and their adventures in Palimpsest and "our" world. It was a bit harder to
I picked this book up at random at a book store, and then got it at the library on a whim. I finished it this morning. I was so distracted actually forgot to bring a new book to start with me to work today. I actually put this book down once or twice just to make it last longer. If you know me and my voracious speed reading, these are momentous things. I was impressed by the quirky, and queer, dark and erotic twists and turns. It was a tad overblown in a few places, but so forgivable. She remind ...more
William Thomas
I love stories of sex and longing and obsession. Typically, I can't get enough of those sorts of stories. Lyrical prose is a plus. And although Palimpsest had all of these things, it didn't have much else.

I couldn't find a single quotable line in the book if you asked me to. Even though the prose was gorgeous, the narration just beautiful, it was entirely forgettable. Page after page I lost what I'd just read previously. I think this is because the idea was enormous, the premise extremely deep,
I've always been more impressed with the IDEA of poetry than I have with poetry itself. Beautiful verses are described in so many of the books I've read, but a lot of times when I read an actual poem it just seems too much I'm sure I could think of some exceptions (and if I would take the trouble to READ more of it then I could probably find more), but I've always thought prose was better.

To me, Catherynne Valente's books are what I've always thought poetry was SUPPOSED to be like.
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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
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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.” 77 likes
“...For grace may only be found briefly, and always in the midst of madness.” 33 likes
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