Palimpsest is a magical city that you can only access by coupling with those who have already been inside it's walls. Those who have visited are marked by a strange black tattoo that resembles part of a map. In the beginning of this novel, four characters make their first journey into this strange world. They are a young Japanese girl, a beekeeper, a locksmith, and a bookbinder. The four quickly become addicted to Palimpsest, and will do anything in their power to make themselves permanent residents.
Palimpsest is the current selection for calico_reaction 's monthly book club. It is the second book that I have read by Catherynne M. Valente, the first being In the Night Garden. Much like In the Night Garden, Palimpsest is written exquisitely. Valente's lush and sensual prose is beautiful and very apt for the unique and intoxicating city of Palimpsest. Unfortunately, there were a few times where the prose was so lovely and abstract that I found myself getting a little lost, and had to find my way again. Fortunately, this didn't happen too many times. The world that Valente has created here is unique and quite unlike anything I have experienced before. I really appreciated the fact that she took time to reveal a little more information about the city Palimpsest at the beginning of every other chapter, to better acquaint the reader with the setting. Admittedly, I did not find this book to be quite as engrossing as In the Night Garden. Where In the Night Garden grabbed me at the first sentence, it took me several chapters to get into Palimpsest, and it didn't keep my attention as insistently. But given how much I loved In the Night Garden, I feel as if Palimpsest had a really tough act to follow up on.
Palimpsest has a unique format as it covers the four different story lines of the four protagonists. For the majority of the book, the characters do not interact at all. I thought it was interesting at how all four characters were so different (some even on different continents) but how they often yearned for similar things like companionship, and human connection. So it makes sense that all four would need to make a literal human connection (sex) to enter Palimpsest. The sexuality presented here has a purpose beyond titillation, and is integral to the plot. I also found it interesting how the four characters became addicted to the city. Like addicts, they often did repulsive things to be a part of Palimpsest, risking pregnancy, disease, and disfigurement just to pass though for a single night. Their early ventures into Palimpsest (Oleg's in particular) made me think a lot about what it means to be a tourist or immigrant. To enter a place that is foreign and terrifying, but at the same time, fascinating for it's newness.
Palimpsest is a fascinating book. In many ways, I wish there had been more to it. I wanted to learn more about the history of the city, especially the often referenced war. At the same time, there was already so much in these pages to think about. Although not on the same level as In the Night Garden, Palimpsest is an enjoyable novel about a unique world. I'm glad I gave it a chance.