Oh, this is a cold book. Its main characters, our four guides who contract the passport to the fantastical city of Palimpsest, are broken individuals all; there is almost no warmth in the very frequent sex they all engage in; and the closer they get to achieving their dream of permanently moving to Palimpsest, the clearer it becomes that for all its wonders, it is like everywhere else a place to live, not an answer. Reviews — Matt Denault, Dan Hartland, Deborah J Brannon, Annalee Newitz — rightly talk about how penetrating the novel is on the relationship between the real and the fantastic. I’m a little surprised that words like possessiveness and selfishness don’t crop up more often; they seem to me necessary to capture the full desolation of the desire that the Palimpsest virus induces, an addictive need to make a place ours, to make it us, to fill ourselves up with it: an need familiar to readers of fantasy that the novel at first mocks, with its absurdly imaginative glimpses of a city that refuse to become a whole, and then, towards the close, seems to concede. The great weakness of Palimpsest, as Dan is most forceful in articulating, is that to this end its characters are tools, not players, and they can feel a little thin, not to mention hapless (perhaps particularly the two men; the two women felt more sharply defined to me throughout). All four are victims of the story, not shapers of it — a feeling reinforced by the highly structured, highly stylised nature of the book, which clinically cycles between the characters, forcing more direction onto them than their individual lives ever seem to contain. But perhaps this is a final chill irony: an unresolvable struggle between the irresistable artifices of stories and something more fluid, less satisfying, that we have to try to recognise as life.
Published by Niall