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"Either/Or" spake Darlingblue: A review of Catherynne M. Valente's The Labyrinth

by Cris Saiki, staff writer

The Labyrinth
Catherynne M. Valente
Fiction, 180 pages
Prime Books

“Look closely. This is not the way.” That is how Catherynne M. Valente’s dark philosophical journey through the perpetually shape-shifting labyrinth of the mind begins.


Immediately, one is lost, eyes-deep in the paradox of the riddle behind the riddle. There is no time to take a breath before the reader is tossed into the visceral landscape of Valente’s rich, textured lyric madness.

There are no clews to lead us (and no clues either, for readers who may be unfamiliar with the piece of string heroes traditionally used to find their way out of mazes) out of this stark land. Without past or future filled with devouring doors, staircases spiraling to nowhere, dark angels, magus monkeys, philosopher crocodiles, key-crafting lobsters, and complacent March hares.

This is Alice in Wonderland as Kierkegaard would have written it, an angst-filled and lonely antiquest where all things that appear in essence are, in fact, existence, the nothing, the truth devoid of meaning.

Valente’s protagonist, a chameleon Alice without a name, is a “Seeker-After” called darlingblue/green/red/gold/glass who does not believe she will ever find anything. Thus, she accepts and rejects, sporadically, as she moves through the terrible jungle-dessert-sea downdowndown of the maze and its menagerie.

Darlingblue is this century, this millennium, this existence, sticking her fingers into her maze-mind and tasting them to find they taste of nothing; smelling them to find they smell of nothing. She walks and walks, knowing and not knowing where she is or how it is that she got there, only that she is/was/will always be there.

The Labyrinth hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self place; for where we are is the Labyrinth, and where the Labyrinth is, there must we ever be.

What is this Labyrinth? Who lures her and leaves her in it? How did she come to be there, and why is she never told, never consulted?

The coiled maze belies the concept of a cycle. The Labyrinth is not a traditional novel; the plot does not offer answers. It is not about escape. It cannot be. Between the pages of this novel Valente has masterfully crafted the Minotaur of existential angst that chases our generation, and all those before it.

Catherynne M. Valente wrote her first poem at 10, but did not consider herself a writer until she was 14-years-old. She was first published at 19 and by 24 had written The Labyrinth and The Book of Dreams (to be released by Prime in 2005), an exploratory journey of the self through the rudiments of quantum mechanic theory.

Valente is currently working on a novel based on the lives of the Knights of the Round Table from their own perspectives. She lives in Yokosuka, Japan with her husband.


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