Monday, 13 August 2012

Review: - The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has to win the prize for the title I've loved most in a book, probably ever. Definitely it was a great motivating factor in its' inclusion on my wishlist; it sounded interesting and quirky, and it was. It was also another recommendation from Bookrageous, and seriously, if you're not listening to this podcast you should be! They read awesome stuff :-) The book has a beeeeeautiful cover, and a little illustration at the start of every chapter and I loved them.

It started off as a serialisation online before being published in book form, and it's the first 'children's book' that Valente has written, although she has written a number of other novels and seems to be a pretty prolific writer.

I've been reading it this week while we've been on holiday and it's a lovely, relaxing read. To be honest I wouldn't call it specifically a children's book (hence the quotation marks) - it's more of a book originally intended for children but which is entirely readable by anybody of any age, especially if, like me (and Valente, apparently!), you have somewhat of an obsession with fairytale and folklore. Fairyland is the story of a girl called September who is taken from her home in Nebraska by the Green Wind into fairyland, where she has all kinds of experiences synonymous with the standard fairytale. The thing that makes this book so special is the style and the tone of the narrative. Valente manages to be both detached and involved at the same time, and while she tells the story from a third person viewpoint she still stays inside September's head enough to make you get quite attached.

In the author questions at the end of the book, she says that she wanted to write a book "about saying yes to magic, about seeing a new world, a new way of living and embracing it instead of turning away". In most novels of this kind, the defining characteristic is that eventually, the protagonist ends up trying to get home, but without wanting to post any spoilers, that never really happens to September. She knows herself enough to know that she in some way belongs in fairyland, and it isn't just that like Wendy etc in Peter Pan, she has forgotten what home is like, but more that she realises that even if she goes back, she will never really leave fairyland behind. I don't think that anybody ever should. 

I do see my adoration of fairytale and folklore as part of my fundamental inability to see myself as a proper grown up person, but I love it that way. I love that books like the Narnia series, Peter Pan, and now this allow me to temporarily suspend what I *know* to be impossible and go back to when I was six and used to leave my window open every night for Peter Pan. I once ran away to find Neverland (thank God my Dad is on the ball and came tearing down the road after me - I was less than 4 years old at the time and had somehow managed to escape from our back garden), and if I'm honest, there's still a little part of me that believes in Father Christmas. I'm not apologising for it, I wouldn't want it any other way. 

Stylistically, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland reminded me a little of Lewis Carroll, but far easier to get your head around. I think that Valente has got me back into a bit of a fairytale/children's literature obsessive phase again, as I decided yesterday that I absolutely had to watch the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland (if you haven't seen it and you're a fan of Alice/Johnny Depp/Tim Burton/pretty things, then do. It is seriously one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.), and then while watching it I had a huge urge to read Through the Looking Glass, which, to be fair, is on my Classics Club list, but wasn't on my list of plans for this week. We shall have to see how long I hold out against it! 

I think I've done what I usually do when talking about fairytale related things, which is to not really review the book, but kind of meander around the subject and go off on random tangents, for which I apologise. I can't help it, it's some kind of compulsive thing I think. Anyway, another book to add to the favourites list, another one to tick off for the Telling Tales Challenge!

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