Origamy (Rachel Armstrong)

Origamy is a novel by Rachel Armstrong.
[I got this book from a LibraryThing Early Reviewer Give-Away.]
Finished on: 19.10.2018

Mobius is a weaver, like her parents Newton and Shelley who are all part of a circus troupe. Weavers can manipulate spacetime, but Mobius has somehow forgotten how to do it and needs to start to learn again. Encouraged by her parents, she can soon start traveling again. She zips around the universe, discovering its multitudes of cultures for herself. Soon she realizes that something is wrong and there is a threat that hangs over the universe that may unravel it entirely.

Origamy is definitely an unusual book, but it’s unusual in a way that I struggled with to say the least. It’s not bad per se, but I felt like I couldn’t get my foot in the narrative’s door and stayed outside, catching only confusing glimpses of what was going on inside.

The book cover showing a piece of Origamy made from several different kinds of paper in front of stars in space.

Origamy obviously tries to do something different from what we usually get to read and it definitely succeeds there. But some things are always done the same way, because they work and because storytelling is a cultural practice that requires a certain knowledge on both the storyteller’s and the listeners’/readers’ part. The part of myself that is traditional – and that’s not a very big part – kept moaning about the lack of consistent narrative (there is just not much of a story) and the utter lack of characterization (despite being told in the first person, Mobius remained completely colorless for me – I have no idea who she is) and I was often at a loss as to what was going on at all here.

There are countless tangents, (quasi-)scientific contemplations, as well as fairy tales about the book’s world that I found interesting by themselves, but their inclusion in the book worked to its detriment – making it feel even more frayed and disjointed than the already jumpy nature of the story made it feel in the first place. Instead of having a caleidoscopic effect, where all those details add up to a bigger picture, it made the book crumble for me.

Now, you can argue that the book challenges the usual requirements of a “good story”, it challenges reading habits and expectations. Yes, it does. But for me, the challenge didn’t yield anything. I didn’t learn that we can tell stories differently from what we’re used to. I was just mostly confused and also annoyed that the book deviated from norms instead of enjoying its deviations.

All of this led to me needing a really long while to read the novel, even though it isn’t actually all that long. I am usually not a fast reader at least partly because I never skim, but in this case, I caught myself skimming all the time – and I could rarely motivate to go back and read the passages without skimming, either, making the long time it took me to read the book even more mysterious to me.

To make my No to it even more final, the book calls on origami and chopsticks to describe weaving. As part of its world-building, it offers up a fake etymology for the word “origamy” at the beginning of the book that doesn’t acknowledge at all that origami is a Japanese art from, nor is there any acknowledgement of that in the text, making the entire thing the perfect example of cultural appropriation, white-washing an Asian concept and removing all trace of its heritage. And that’s just racist.

Summarizing: there were some interesting ideas here, but it really didn’t come together for me at all.

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