Valente is probably best known for her excellent duology The Orphan’s Tales and her crowdfunded children’s book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making , as well as Deathless, Palimpsest and the Prester John trilogy, but back in the mid-00s she had a few short novels published by Prime Books – and one of these, Yume no Hon, remains my favourite of all her books to date.
Put a truce to any thoughts of departure. I am she who glides through the sky when the snow is falling fast, the lady of snow and darkness. I am a ghost, which is not to say I ever lived. I am a memory, which is not to say I ever died. I begin at the moment the ice on the river begins to crack like bones of glass. I am a silence written on pulp-mash paper, in ink drawn from village-wells.
Yume no Hon is about loneliness and madness and the ways we turn our lives mythical to escape mundanity.
It is about an old woman who is the spinx…
It would, of course, be as true to say I stood outside the Theban wall whose mud-bricks are the color of pages and asked riddles with lips of verdigris.
who is being turned into a temple…
There is much activity on my body, and they have poured the foundation of the Palace from a blood-mash of cartilage. The miners tap, tap, tap at my jaw through the night, piling up teeth like cairns, piling them up in wheelbarrows and crates, in baskets and slings. I have heard Mountain suggest seventeen balconies. River plans a tower from which to view the History, when it is finished.
who climbs a ruined pagoda…
I have become accustomed to the second floor of the dream-pagoda. A few centipedes, with bodies of jointed rubies, have made my acquaintance. The floorboards have fallen through in places. Dust and flecks of paint hang suspended in the air which is often gold these days, under a haze of low clouds that suggest the sun.
Ayako moves more slowly now, as though she/I cannot connect to her body. I hope that when the dream of the villager comes again I will be able to catch him – I think another dream might cure the creaking of her bones. I hate the sound. The other women do not creak.
who speaks with the landscape around her…
“Tell me a lesson about water, River,” I murmur, for River has always been my tutor, less stern than Mountain in his dreaming heights. And when River speaks, his voice is yellow and blue, the fringe on an Emperor’s sedan chair, rustling imperceptible gold into the wind:
When you put your white foot into me, I part for you. But when you drink, though it is cool and sweet, you part for me.
who is mad and lost; all and none of the above.
It is Valente’s prose at its wildest and most rich, mining the mingled depths of experience and myth – and quantum physics and the 72 Heian-era calendar divisions – to blur the line between small and large stories.
I love Yume no Hon. I could quote it forever. It manages to capture the personal enormity of being alone while taking diversions into the Enuma Elish and the lifecycle of cicadas. In its many voices, it reveals the complexity of one woman. It is heady and real all at once.
There is nothing traditionally grandiose about it – no nations are re-shaped, no heroes are set on grand quests. There is a woman and the grandness of her self.
That is it. That is everything.
There is no way for me to be objective about this book.
If you want to buy Yume no Hon, you’re best off buying her omnibus Myths of Origin, which collects all 4 of early short novels in a single edition. It’s cheaper than the hardcover Yume no Hon and it contains 4 novels instead of 1 – get to it!