52 books / 52 weeks – The Book of Dreams

Review: Yume no Hon, The Book of Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente

A keeper? N. O.

A confusing book. I disliked it from the start, but pushed through it on the theory that it might be a literary brussels sprout, not enjoyable but good for me. Unfortunately, I’d say it’s closer to a stale marshmallow that has somehow picked up a vaguely garlicky offtaste.

What can you make of a book that drifts, or lurches, from the story of an old, old hermit woman living in a half-ruined pagoda on a mountain somewhere in Japan to creatively imagined – or is it garbled – retellings of various legends to what seem to be the thoughts and deeds of a conscious volcano? It might be profoundly mystical. It might be the fantasies of a psychotic narrator. It might be an incoherent mess that got way beyond its author’s control. In the end, I’ll vote for “incoherent mess”.

But perhaps I’m just not spiritual enough to appreciate Ayako-the-narrator’s wisdom. Can I find anything specific to dislike, aside from the frequent sadism? There were a couple of things that troubled me. First, Ayako-the-narrator (the hermit woman) is somehow supposed to represent all women – more on this later. In particular, it seems she’s supposed to represent all legendary women or goddesses. Why, then, does she only envision herself as ancient Western or Middle Eastern figures of horror? We see Ayako as Isis of Egypt, Ayako as Tiamat of Babylon, Ayako as Sphinx of Thebes, all of them destroying and destroyed. We never see Ayako as Coatlicue of Mexico or Kali of India or Oshun of the Yoruba or even Amaterasu of Japan. Something’s not right here. A universal figure really ought to try to be, well, universal.

Oh, but how foolish of me! We are told again and again that “all women are one woman.” If the Book of Dreams has any point to make, it seems to be that what happens to any individual, however horrible, does not matter at all.

And This. Is. Nonsense. This is (insert the very worst, most abusive words you know) nonsense. This is just not true. It’s overwrought wannabe pseudo-profundity.

Yume no Hon? Book of Nightmare.

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