Out of this World Book Club: The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is, as it’s title suggests, a fairy-tale, filled with the magic and whimsy assumed in such a label. There are talking animals, animated inanimate objects, and pookas (a kind of shapeshifters). The is a land where it is perpetually Autumn, a city in the clouds, and a glass castle in the middle of a stormy sea. There is a girl named September, a boy (actually a marid) named Saturday, and a fairy named Calpurnia. It is possible, in fact, that there is perhaps too much whimsy. Somewhere between the opening sentence and our meeting with the three witches Hello, Goodbye, and Manythanks, I began to feel a bit queasy, like when I was young and ate all my Halloween candy at once. It was the narrator that did it to me. The voice, I felt, was too twee.
Fortunately, I persevered. I was rewarded by the introduction of the Marquess, a delightfully vile character. Her introduction, via a story told by the witches, brings an Old World sense of menace and malice to the story. She provides grit to a tale in danger of being too polished. While at first blush the Marquess simply plays the classic villain, once her true story is told, it makes all the preceding puns and cutesy-ness worthwhile.
Indeed, the climactic reveal is heartbreaking on several levels. The actions of our heroine, the motivations of our villain, the resolution to the conflict all verge on the tragic without becoming overwrought by angst. Then comes denouement, which holds it’s own bittersweet revelations.
In the final analysis, I did enjoy this book, and will give it another read, knowing that it’s not all saccharine sweetness.