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Palimpsest

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3.66  ·  Rating details ·  4,672 ratings  ·  816 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 tattoo ...more
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Published August 15th 2010 by Brilliance Audio (first published January 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,672 ratings  ·  816 reviews


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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
Bradley
Re-Read 2/28/20:

Imagine, just for a moment, that I recaptured all of the same glory, the beautiful prose, and the lost, wonderous FEELING that I got from reading Palimpsest the second time.

Imagine that it just got better with a re-read.

Especially now that I've read all the Fairyland books, this wonderfully adult and sexual version, along with all its myriad mini-tragedies, only deepens my appreciation of this book.


Original Review:

It is a reverence, a sting of the holy, as rich and powerful and d
...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
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
Heidi The Reader
Sex and sleep with a marked individual is the way to the city of Palimpsest, a mystical and deadly place that exists beyond the borders of our world.

The first time you cross over, your spirit is bound with four other travelers. For what purpose, no one knows.

"Where you go in Palimpsest, you are bound to these strangers who happened onto Orlande's salon just when you did, and you will go nowhere, eat no capon or dormouse, drink no oversweet port that they do not also taste, and they will visit no
...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
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 sour
...more
Phrynne
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I laboured through this book, determined to finish it and not really enjoying much about it at all. The prose is beautiful but very heavy going and it goes on for 367 pages. It takes a lot of concentration and effort to keep on top of who all the characters are and I did not feel it was worth it in the end.
This is the second book I have tried by this author and I guess I now have to admit her writing style and I do not go together.
JW
Jun 11, 2009 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
Kara 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
Trish
Feb 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of Valente’s older works that I hadn’t read yet. As a total fangirl, I had to remedy that, of course.

We start off in a strange world where a factory produces vermin for the titular city of Palimsest. Soon, we meet the 4 protagonists, who are from our world and have arrived here after having had sex with a stranger. Because that is how you get here. No tornados or magic wardrobes, no enchanted doors. Just sex. Very intimate, satisfying and meaningful sex (for some), mind you.

You know
...more
Jacob
Jun 12, 2010 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
Gabrielle
3 and a half stars, rounded to 4.

The first thing you need to understand when you crack open a Catherynne M. Valente book is that she is a poet who writes novels. Her sentences and descriptions are dreamlike, her words carefully chosen but often surprising. I would personally like to find a good seat in that woman's brain and just watch her thoughts fly by because the images she conjures are often some of the most beautiful ones I have ever read.

A criticism I have often read about her is that the
...more
Allison Hurd
What a strange book. I love Valente's silvery, magical prose, and the way she weaves the everyday with the bizarre in a way that makes all the bizarre things seem commonplace and the everyday things seem electric. But even with all that, this book felt a bit more like someone retelling you their dream upon waking than it felt like crossing viscerally into that dream.

CONTENT WARNING: (view spoiler)
...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
Jennifer
Catherynne Valente writes somewhere at the crossroads of Italo Calvino (dense, erudite, inexplicable), The Travels of Marco Polo (bizarre travelogue with little commentary on the weirdness), and fever dream. Palimpsest leans hard in the fever dream direction. This is a city of dreams and desire, transmitted like a sexual infection: those who have slept with a traveler to Palimpsest wake up with a sprawling tattoo of a map somewhere on their body, and the next person to sleep with them will be tr ...more
Megan Baxter
Mar 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's odd that, in trying to figure out how to explain this book, I first have to figure out exactly what is the sexually transmitted disease. It's not citizenship in the strange city of Palimpsest - that has to be earned. It's not passage to the city, as that has to be achieved, every time someone goes. It's the passport, I guess. The black markings of the city streets on the skin that never leave, that mark a person as someone who could go to Palimpsest, if they choose. Tattoo as sexually trans ...more
Acqua
3.5 stars, I think.
Palimpsest is a story about a sexually transmitted city.
It's strange and uncomfortable; it has an idea and goes for it without ever trying to hide that, without compromises, which is something I always appreciate. It could be seen as a response to the Greek myth that says people are only half of a whole, or the soulmate trope in general: it asks why does it have to be two? As I'm someone who loves stories about cities and human sexuality but not about soulmates, I really liked
...more
Stefan
Aug 04, 2009 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
Robyn
Jan 29, 2014 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. ...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
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 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
Sandra
Sep 05, 2010 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
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
Meg
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  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
Stacia
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
Makes me think of strangers in an Edward Hopper painting pursuing sex like addicts needing drugs in order to transport them through a crack into another world that might be a cross between Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali's paintings dancing with Renaissance art, mystical and surreal, beautiful and harsh. A strange and haunting world on both sides of the coin.

Parts were lyrical and beautiful. Parts were repulsive and disgusting. It's very floaty and plotless for large portions, though there is
...more
Marley
Dec 22, 2009 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
Sarah
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Kat
"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
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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.” 123 likes
“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 them.” 46 likes
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