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The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2010

All Issues
OCT 2010 Issue

Freezing Cold Crazytown, Warms Reader

Jean-Christophe Valtat
(Melville House, 2010)

Melville House sure can make a pretty book. And like everything aware of its own beauty, this book knows its worth and doesn’t have to prove, anything to its reader. It plays a little hard to get at first, and only a gentle and patient reader will reap the rewards. Aurorarama does not care if you are following along behind, it is all—BAM—here we are, keep up or don’t. Are we in the past, the present, the future? Who are these people? What is up with this mythology? Here are some characters and you had better pay attention because this narrative is not going to slow down for anyone. Even reading the publisher’s synopsis is exhausting.

But once I found my coordinates (like an arctic explorer?), I could appreciate the panorama of Aurorarama, which is linguistically playful and alliterative, and is above all, incredibly detailed. The action, the time, the location are realized beyond the scope of most novels, or the ability of most novelists. This prose is dense, let me tell you. And by dense, I mean you will have to reread passages over and over and return to the beginning of the book to recap once you learn more of its reluctantly-revealed backstory.

Because on the first reading—it is crazytown—there are foppish men and polar greenhouses, indigenous Inuit and white interlopers, sexified nightclubs and menacing airships, and a polar kangaroo and a caste of waste management workers in plague masks. Also shamans and more entertainment-oriented magicians, and revolutionaries and a corrupt council, and snow and drugs, and a freaking duke and a conjoined, hermaphroditic love-object. Ghosts and zombies round out the cast just for good measure. I mean, wow. This ain’t your momma’s Robert Peary.

A critical note: the female characters are fairly interchangeable, which is a little disappointing considering how deeply written most of the novel is, but other than that, and the fact that reading it truly sapped my energy in a way that only Proust has managed before, I found this enjoyable, and this reader is in for the trilogy—if only to get more of that polar kangaroo, please.


Karen Brissette


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2010

All Issues