Vassa in the Night Review | Kieran Higgins

Review – Vassa in the Night

Vassa in the NightVassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a weird, weird, weird book. To be honest, I just didn’t get it.

Vassa lives with her stepmother and her two stepsisters (though not really, because she has the same father with one of them, so it’s her half sister, but oddly enough it’s the one with no blood relation to her that actually cares about her) in Brooklyn. For some strange reason, the night has been getting longer in New York, to the advantage of BY’s, a 24hr grocery store with the policy of beheading shoplifters. Vassa’s apartment runs out of lightbulbs, and her mean half-sister sends out her to buy light bulbs at the only store that’s open, despite the fact that it could cost Vassa her life. Vassa goes because she appears to be a bit suicidal.

She arrives at BYs and things get weirder. It didn’t really make sense until I took a break to read Vasilisa the Beautiful (well, its Wikipedia page) and some things became a lot clearer. Ultimately, though, very little explanation is given until the end, which resolves only the bare minimum. Maybe I just didn’t understand it, but it didn’t captivate me enough to go back and resolve the things I didn’t understand. It has a fantastical sense about it, quite like Alice in Wonderland, which I’ve never really cared for.

There’s a beautiful, rich, world outside Vassa’s myopic perspective – magic, “persons of quality”, her father that left to become a dog (yes, that happened, and no one ever brings it up again), the life of her flighty and talented mother Zinaida, the history behind the formation of the BY company. This is all discarded, and left hazy in the background to feature solely on Vassa.

The whole book takes place over only three days, but it’s so slow paced it feels like more. And we spent a lot of time in Vassa’s head, which isn’t a pleasant place to be. She’s cynical, and not at all one bit disturbed about the strange things she sees, which isn’t endearing. Also, despite being in life-threatening situations, she is more concerned about which boys like her.

As for the writing, it’s deep and descriptive, despite clunky dialogue that strives and fails to replicate the way teenagers talk to each other. It is dark and gory, but retellings should work without knowing the original story, but this just didn’t.

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