Norain's Reviews > In the Night Garden

In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
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's review
Jul 08, 2012

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bookshelves: fairy-tale
Read from July 08 to 21, 2012

A girl was born with dark circles around her eyes which caused everyone to think she originated from the devils. She was left to fend for herself in the Sultan's garden and because people believed they would be cursed if they talked to her, she was lonely all the time. Then one day, one of the Sultan's many princes approached her out of curiousity. She revealed to him that the dark circles around her eyes were actually made up of very small writings which told many beautiful stories. The prince begged for her to tell a story and she agreed. Thus we had In the Night Garden, a book of stories within stories.

Basically there were two stories that were told by the girl, the Book of Steppe and the Book of Sea. They were full of metaphors, very descriptive, intricately woven and so sadly beautiful. I believed writing this book was no simple feat, hats off to Catherynne M. Valente. There were narratives within narratives, mainly the girl as the story-teller, but inside her stories there were many other narrators too. The Book of Steppes for example told of a prince who was sick of his monotonous life at the palace and ran away in search of adventure, but before he could go far accidentally killed a goose that was actually the daughter of a witch. The witch told him a story about her origin, and in it we were introduced to her grandmother, who told her own story. And so on so forth. One story very rarely ended where it began and often emerged and disappeared alternately with some other stories, until finally everything was revealed to be deeply connected. It did not take me very long to finish the Book of Steppe and all the while I was simply sucked into it. I was very, very impressed.

The Book of Sea was unfortunately not much of a success as the first book. The fantasy was way too much, way too fantastic. Let me be humble and admit that I am not that imaginative. I prefered my fantasy to have a good basis in our real world. If my imagination was raised too high in your world of fantasy I would lose my grip of the logical law that ruled my daily life - too much of 'good' thing is not always good for one's body, or brain. The Book of Sea was infested with monsters and not just monsters in the usual sense, but monsters born from humans. And I technically got sick reading about the city A-La-Nur where various religions co-existed. No, don't get me wrong, I did not mind if it were a city where Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists etc lived together peacefully, but all the religions in A-La-Nur were made up for the sake of the story. It was just not realistic, what with a sect of humans with dog heads who were vegetarians, I almost felt I could not bring myself to finish the Book of Sea.

Honestly I really did not think the Book of Sea was as succesfully written as the Book of Steppe. It was about a pale orphan girl nicknamed Snow and the stories told to her by Sigrid who weaved nets together with her: mainly about the search for a 'god' called St Sigrid. But really, I was way more interested about the Black Papess whose revenge caused her to want to conquer A-La-Nur, about the Yi who took possession of human bodies. I really had no feeling whatsoever towards St Sigrid and her story, and unlike the prince from the Book of Steppe, Snow was not so involved in the plot. She was more like a girl passively listening to a story than the main character of the story, she did not do anything really important beside third-wheeling on somebody's else adventure. And the plot disappointed me sorely. It used the same formulae as the Book of Steppe but I did not feel the many different stories in it were woven just as neatly. In fact to me there was really no secret or mystery worth revealing here. I did not feel eager at all, I just wanted it to be over and done with.

My guess was In the Night Garden was not meant for everyone. If you loved folklores or Greek mythology (the original, not Percy Jackson!), then I would suggest you read it but if you loved fairy-tale retellings with angtsy love triangles, get away. It was beautiful, honestly, but I wished Ms Valente did not try to relate the Book of Steppes and Book of Seas. I knew Ms Valente was not the type of writer who pushed things beyond its line, but I could not find any words good enough to explain my feelings when I saw some characters from the Book of Steppes appearing in the Book of Seas, and for their stories to be concluded in the latter. I believed each was better off as a stand-alone story. Still, I would read the second installment of the Orphan's Tale. And if there was a third I would read that too. [Yes, and I will read the Arabian Nights. Shaddup and get away from my face!]

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Reading Progress

47.0% "I am completely sucked into the story. I found myself wondering if I really disliked Orhan Pamuk's 'My Name is Red' or was it just because my younger self was impatient? Should I take a step back or should I allow myself to be completely lost here?"
85.0% "This is too much of a fantasy. I was lost in it, not in a good sense. I will be losing my mind if I continue. This will have to wait until my health is better or my insomnia will never get cured." 2 comments
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