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Wrong Train, Right Time ([personal profile] wrongtrainrighttime) wrote2017-01-28 02:50 pm

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Valente, Catherynne M. Radiance. Tor Books, 2015. Finished 1/28/2017.

What to say about Radiance.

I'm a long-time fan of Catherynne M. Valente and she's one of the writers whose work probably falls on my auto-read list simply because I love it so. And this is a reread, which I meant to stay away from, but I'm making an exception.

I love the style of this novel, the form of being stitched together out of ephemera. I'm a big fan of works that mess around with form like that. I love watching a story being slowly pulled together out of bits and bobs, some private, some public; the sense of immersion that comes from reading something as prosaic as another world's gossip mags. And, given the central concern of film in this book, the format of ephemera pulled together is particularly fitting. You have all this raw material. How do you turn it from a bunch of shots into a story?

Story's the whole problem, of course. As Percival Unck says -- delivering my favorite line in the whole novel -- "The lens, my good man, does not discriminate between the real and the unreal." It's pithy, no doubt about it, but painfully relevant to the core conceit of the book, and really what Radiance is all about, on all levels. The book itself is about trying to cobble together the real and the unreal, fiction and nonfiction... And this, too, is what the characters are engaged in, the struggle to push what they see as real and unreal together into something that makes sense, that can comfort them in the wake of Severin Unck's terrible tragedy. And of course that push-pull between reality and unreality is exemplified by Severin herself, who is a non-fiction filmmaker who nonetheless exists in a fictional and highly fictionalized world -- 1950s pulp sci-fi, a sci-fi ideal of the past.

It's a line that feels particularly weighty today, in the year 2017 A.D. In an age where the credibility of all news outlets is in many ways trash, and the whole concept of real and true is under assault, anything and everything related to the concept of alternative facts and fake news... Well, it seems important to remember. Unck's words punch above their weight. The lens does not discriminate.

Switching gears a little, one thing I love about Catherynne M. Valente is that she has a lovely, poetic, sharp style of writing. Whenever I read her work, novels or short stories, I feel immediately like I've dived into somewhere new and unreal. And her way with language is just fantastic. It lingers. But, on rereading Radiance, I found that her writing style didn't quite fit at times. In some places it seemed like it overpowered the format she was trying to pastiche for the ephemera. I didn't really mind, though. As I said -- I love her writing.