In the Night Garden
Catherynne M. Valente, 2006

the thirty‐fourth book in the visitor recommendation series;
suggested by Andrew Davis

“Yo, dawg, I heard you like stories, so I put a story in your story so you can read a story while you read a story!”

(These Calendar articles have started to take way too long to write, so to save some time I am hereby switching to a new format consisting entirely of decade‐old memes.  I think it’s going pretty well so far!)

So this is actually a compendium of two installments of a fantasy series, and yes it provides your recommended daily allowance of metafictional subversion of genre tropes and gender roles and whatnot, but the chief gimmick here is that a character will start to tell a story, and a character in that story will encounter someone who says, “Let me tell you my story…”, and in that story the character will encounter someone else who says, “And now let me tell you my story…”, and pretty soon we’re ten layers deep.  I assume that most readers are expected to lose their place and just let the narrative wash over them—​I certainly did.  Fortunately, it’s pretty good storytelling.  I’m not generally into fantasy as a genre, and when I reached the end I was ready to move on to something else, but it was pretty absorbing, I reckon.

When I was about three‐quarters of the way through, I watched:

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Stefan Zweig, Hugo Guinness, and Wes Anderson, 2014
#2, 2014 Skandies

…and at first an exclamation point appeared above my head, because it seemed to be using the exact same gimmick: we start in the present, then match cut to 1985, at which point a character starts to tell a story set in 1968, in which he meets another character who starts telling a story set in 1932.  Each time frame has its own aspect ratio, which I found very interesting: I’ve noticed that lately movies have taken to switching into different aspect ratios for their action sequences, but this is the first time I can recall that gimmick being used to establish a sense of period.  In any case, it turns out that once we’re in 1932, we stay there for the bulk of the running time, so there the parallels to In the Night Garden end.  Except, I guess, for my reaction to it, which was that I found it a pleasant diversion—​it’s a light comedy with some decent laughs scattered among the usual Wes Anderson tweeness.  (Tweeness?  Tweedom?  Tweeitude?  Whutevah.)

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