Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Orphans Tales: In the Night Garden

Title: The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Series: The Orphan's Tales, book 1
Genre: Fairy Tales
Published: 2006

Recommendation: Only for those who really want to read a long series of fairy tales.
Rating: 6.5/10

Summary: A girl left all alone in Sultan's garden because of her strange eyes, by night reads the magical stories off her eyelids to the Sultan's son.

Reactions: I don't remember how this book ended up on my Amazon wish list, but it did and I ended up receiving it as a gift on my birthday last year. I finally gotten to reading it in the last few days, but was rather disappointed.

I think partially my disappointment comes from the book being not quite what I expected. In the Night Garden is a collection of fairy tales. And while I like fairy tales, I found it had to stay interested in pages and pages of somewhat disjointed stories.

The format of the book is quite unique. The best description for it is that the story telling is recursive. The girl in the garden tells the story, the story character tells the story, the character that the story character met tells their story and so on, sometimes it goes 5 or 6 levels deep. In addition, each story is told from the first point of view of each narrator which makes for some confusing switches in the story telling. The confusion is alleviated by chapter headings each time the narrators switch and eventually I got used to the format though it was hard to grasp at first. The biggest downfall of the format for me was that it kept interrupting the thread of the story and I found it difficult to get back into the original story once the diversion was over.

Part of the reason I didn't enjoy the book is the style in which it's written. There is a lot of very flowery prose with some rather strange similes. For example:
Sigrid's smile crept away from her face like a cat through a door left ajar.
And so it went like this for many years, while thirteen summers like fat orange roses sprang and withered.
Some may enjoy this type of stylistic story-telling, but I mostly felt bewildered by the fact that summers were like fat orange roses and it took me some time to get to used to it. By the end of the book, I found myself reading more easily, but still not a huge fan of the style.

Finally, I guess my problem was that I really enjoy character driven stories, while in these fairy tales the characters were colourful and varied, they were usually exactly what they seemed to be. You could know everything you needed about them from the first character description. In fact I enjoyed the second tale of the of the book more because one of the characters was more surprising than the rest.

Overall, I found it hard to keep reading and was rather tempted to put the book down when I came to the end of the first big tale. But dislike leaving any book unfinished, so I persevered and found the second story to be somewhat more enjoyable, partly due to content, partly due to getting more used to the style and format. I imagine those who like fairy tales would enjoy the book, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to a reader of fantasy.

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