Lately I’ve read several stories that play with the role of storytelling: “The Red Bride,” “A Whispering Voice,” “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra.” Over and over again, I’m reminded of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden.
It’s been a while since I read it. What sticks with me is not just the nested layering of stories (which I love) but how the stories in the layers interacted with each other. It’s so intricate, it’s a challenge to hold it all in your head long enough to see how they all weave together into yet a larger tale in the end. The stories themselves take apart traditional tales, put them back together, and create wholly new ones that sound like they could been been told around bonfires long ago.
The prose here is even richer than Palimpsest. Reading it is like walking through a garden redolent with towering lilies and grasping with twisting roses, while your own body — wracked with the aches of endless journeys — is encased in a robe brocaded all in gold. At every step a new marvel tangles your senses, like a salt shaker filled with rainbows. When I got to the end, I was so worn out, I couldn’t go on to the next book.