The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

My Five Word TL:DR Review : A modern day fairy tale


I will start this review by saying short stories are not usually my thing, in fact I tend to avoid them because I know I’ll be left wanting more – and strangely enough, I want more of Tetley Abednego, but in this instance it’s not a criticism.  I want more because I can’t get enough of this character, this world, the words on the page, the emotional depth and the hope that is delivered in the final pages.

Valente has managed to write a story that on the face of it appears hopeless and yet she infuses this with her own whimsical style and instead of creating something bleak and full of doom comes up with a character who is so supremely hopeful, who sees the beauty in this strange world that is all she’s ever known and gives us a feeling that perhaps things could be better.

Once upon a time a young girl, was born in Candlehole in a place known as Garbagetown.  Having managed to survive this strange and bizarre world, finding beauty in stories and looking for leftovers from the previous world before everything was covered in water, she became known as Tetley.  For a long period she was hated for a terrible mistake she made, although this was carried out in good faith.  She accepted her punishment, expecting sometimes to die on any given day and eventually she came to live alone – until she discovered she wasn’t alone at all.  The end.

Obviously this is a story with a meaning behind it.  Valente handles this well and it isn’t the type of tale that feels like it’s preaching.  More, the author gives the story a kind of inevitability, the world is underwater, a handful of survivors live a bizarre life on a strange floating mass of waste left over from the days before everything went pear-shaped.  There’s a strange kind of irony that the rubbish from our throw away society becomes the means for life in this unusual story.

This could be such a book of despair and yet it doesn’t go down that route.  For the survivors, they have never known any different so there isn’t the strange nostalgia of the ‘good old days’.  Instead, they have these mementoes from the past and they use them – not only to live but to create stories and myths.

Tetley is a fantastic character to read.  She tells her tale simply, she doesn’t become involved in making excuses or feeling sorry for herself or blaming others.  It is what it is and I just loved her refreshingly direct manner.  I would happily read more in fact I would love to do so.

I loved the writing.  Unlike garbagetown, which is made up of waste, Valente manages to give every word and sentence meaning.  Nothing is wasted here and to be honest she is a magnificent storyteller.  She grabbed my attention almost from the first page and I was hooked from there onwards.  She brings her creation to life in the mind’s eye with an ease that belies the difficulty of such an undertaking.

Valente – I salute you.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars


12 Responses to “The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente”

  1. Tammy

    Awesome review, and of course I completely agree with you! I loved Tetley and I thought the story was magical (even though there’s no magic!)

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, magical without the magic. Should have included that in my review!
      Lynn 😀

  2. alburke47

    That cover is amazing.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I couldn’t agree more – that’s why I blew it up to a larger size.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Rebecca

    Oooo, this sounds pretty awesome! Great review!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really liked it – she is a rather unusual author and I guess she won’t be to everyone’s taste but I really like her and her stories are so different and so imaginative.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Ola G

    Great review, now I’m really interested in this (unfortunately, didn’t get it through NG, will have to wait and get it through the regular channels ;))!

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    The character sounds amazing! I’m not sure the style and structure of the story would work for me though, but I’d like to give it a try!

  6. pagesandtea

    This sounds quite unique, and I know you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover, but that cover! 😀

  7. Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente […]

  8. Booking Ahead/Weekly-Monthly Wrap Up | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Past is Red by by Catherynne M Valente […]

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