In the Night Garden

Catherynne M. Valente
In the Night Garden Cover

The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden

Parnassus Reads

I came across this book via a recommendation by Kusheline Legacy author Jacqueline Carey. I am so glad I decided to try it! I have never read a book like this before. A bare bones plot summary would say that this is a riff on The 1,001 Nights. There are two central characters; one is a girl who has hundreds of stories imprinted on her eyelids, and is considered cursed by the rest of the palace. Because of this they are afraid to kill her and anger the spirit who cursed her. Instead, they leave her to fend for herself in the vast palace gardens. The other is a princeling who befriends her one night. Each time he visits her, she tells him one of the stories inked onto her eyelids. To say that this is just a new take on the Arabian Nights is to deny the lyrical beauty of Valente's storytelling and her amazing prose (which far outstrips anything Sir Richard Burton managed). Her words and images flow over each other to create a cascade of imagery and metaphor unlike anything I have ever read. Other reviewers have said that it becomes too much, that the narrative drowns in its prose, but I never felt that the language was overwrought; it completely fit both the project and the unique cast of characters who give it voice.

In Valente's book, you will find many familiar tales told from a fresh perspective, as many of the tales seem based out of both European and Eastern traditions. Valente never lets us get lost in too many layers of narrative; at most the stories run three layers deep at any given moment, so you do need to pay attention to what is going on. I was honestly in awe of Valente's talent as a story-teller and writer and it is rare for this to happen with me (nearly a decade's worth of critical analysis has made me a bit too analytical). I encourage you to let yourself be taken away by these stories, to let yourself be swept away by their beauty. This is pure enjoyment. I am excited to have discovered Catherynne Valente and already have several of her other books on my to-read shelf.