Aurorarama by Jean Christophe Valtat

This book is not for everyone. I’ll say that up front so as you read the rest you can judge for yourself if you’re part of the someones who will be delighted as I was. I had a hard time reading it, because Aurorarama demands more of the reader than just presence. The descriptions are complex, interwoven, and often drug-addled, leaving the feeling of strolling through an opium den while images swirl around you just out of comprehension.

The pieces of a traditional narrative are present, but in such a way as to be unrecognizable in the first half of the book, or maybe longer. Neither Brentford nor Gabriel offer up a reliable narrator as far as the reader can tell.

At the same time, the novel gives a wonderful picture of society in crisis, of corruption on a personal, political, and societal level. The city is ripe for a revolution, but the players don’t recognize their own roles until thrust into them, too wrapped up in their own impossible needs and desires, as well as their perceptions of who they are…and who they are not.

Wrap all this up in a self-referential, literary meta-text that has both elements of magical realism and steampunk, with quasi mechanical/genetic explanations for most, but not all, of the mystical elements should you be more comfortable that way, throw in a culture clash with the native population that is marked equally with patronizing attempts to “preserve” and underhanded exploitation/eradication efforts, and you’ve got a vague idea of the experience this novel offers.

As I said in the beginning, this is not for everyone, but if you’re willing to stick with it, you’ll come out of the story with questions to ponder, evocative descriptions drifting through your mind, and characters you loved…or loved to hate. I don’t regret a moment spent in New Venice, near, but no one knows how near, the North Pole.

P.S. I got this novel through NetGalley, but as always, the opinions are mine.

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