The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making
Catherynne M Valente
London, Constable & Robinson, 2012, 328p
How is any lover of literature meant to be able to resist a book with a title like this? It has the word "circumnavigated" in it!!!
This is the tale of September, a young girl who escapes the boredom of her lonely house, and is carried off by the Green Wind on the back of a Leopard. The Green Wind helps her through customs into Fairyland, but cannot escort her through the mysterious world. Instead, he tells her the rules of this strange land, and leaves her to make her own friends and adventures.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making is not a light-hearted romp of a fantasy. It takes inspiration from a plethora of resources - fairy tales, classic literature, modern culture - and brings them all together to make one of the most surreal worlds I have ever had the joy to explore. If it had been written badly, this could have been one of the most cliched novels in literary history; but Valente has such passion and knowledge that she creates a world that few others could have even dreamed of.
My favourite character is a sort-of dragon, a Wyvern, called A-Through-L. His father is a Library, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of anything beginning with letters A to L. September finds many friends along her journey, and is loyal and loving towards them all. Although she is only twelve years old, she is wise and generous, and incredibly brave.
I say the book is not light-hearted because it is very dark in places. September suffers, separated from her friends, attacked by strange creatures. At one point she even turns into a tree. Life in Fairyland is far from easy, under the difficult rule of the Marquess.
With any fantasy literature, the reader must suspend their disbelief, at least to some extent. In reading this brilliant novel, it is a pleasure to step into September's world, and sometimes it is a struggle to come back to reality. Everything in Fairyland is so unusual and wonderful, and created with such love, that it comes to life in a way no other fantasy world ever has.