The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente
I’ve been a big fan of Catherynne Valente’s first two FAIRYLAND books, each one full of more imagination than the entire oeuvre of some fantasy authors, to say nothing of the lushly vivid and starkly original language, the wry self-aware humor, and the sharp insights into the joys and pangs of growing up. And all of that returns in the third installment, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. But these elements didn’t quite gel in the same manner for me in this one and whole felt less than its parts, despite those parts often being quite wonderful in their own right.
This time around, September’s destination isn’t quite Fairyland, but as the title informs us, somewhat higher. Having followed a Model A out of our world, September eventually finds herself driving it (or is it driving her?) on the road to the moon. There she’ll reunite with her past pals Saturday the Marid and A-Through-L (Ell) the wyvern, meet the Great Whelk of the Moon (my absolute favorite character and scene in the book), confront a yeti, find (literally) her fate, learn the secret of tools, and have a host of other adventures big and small while meeting a host of other strangely fanciful creatures, both big and small.
September’s continued maturation over time remains a theme of the series here, as does the previously-raised idea of children being “heartless.” While the theme is obviously explored via September’s actions, it is also directly commented upon by the narrator who continues in the same wryly witty and knowingly poignant vein as in the prior two novels. There’s also it seems to me more than a bit of a nod to C.S. Lewis’ problematic treatment of Susan in his NARNIA novels, as September worries that her maturation will bar her from further adventures:
Maybe Fairyland does not want me because I have been trying so hard to be a grown-up person and behave in a grown-up fashion. Maybe Fairland is for children… Maybe I am getting too big — no, worse, maybe I am getting too usual to be allowed to go back.
As always, there are layers within layers, metafictional aspects, nods to those with particular knowledge, and several beautiful set scenes of terrible wonder and beauty (the best kind of wonder and beauty is almost always terrible). And, as usual, Valente has no qualms about venturing into darker and sadder territory than most.
So what’s not to like then? Mostly what happened with The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland was that issues that had been noticeable before struck me more sharply and fully. I mentioned in my review of the first one that I thought it had some problems with pacing and that I also didn’t feel particularly connected with the character and I had the same feelings here, but more so. The book felt slow in places and rushed in others, and I can’t say I ever felt fully engaged by September.
In my review of the second in the series, I mentioned how its episodic nature and wild catalog of invention sometimes led me to wish for more time spent with fewer inventions. Again, I felt this even more strongly here. Sometimes, even often, I wanted to just be where I was for a while before rushing off like (or with) the wind to the next adventure and new creature. And sometimes I wanted something to be just what it was rather than the starting point for a group of similes/metaphors or rather than have it be turned into some sort of alive or quasi-alive creature. Sometimes I wanted a desk to be a desk or a door to be a door just to have a moment’s breath. For the first time in these books, I felt the author’s presence (not the narrator’s, but the author’s) too clearly; for the first time I felt some of the wordplay seemed a bit forced.
While there is much to admire here, and much to revel in, it was a distant and cool sort of admiration for me. Certainly it’s a book I’d recommend, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland wasn’t a bit of a disappointment. I’m guessing, however, that will be a minority opinion.
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