Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll

Fans of Neil Gaiman beware – I just might compare these two authors at some point in this review, as what they write shares a feeling for the magic inherent in daily life. One finds Carroll* dwelling in some rather splendid fictional landscapes at times, and it’s only the merest pin-prick away via the thin veneer of supposed reality. When I need a dose of magic realism that doesn't involve sleeping with whores, being in a Latin American country or incurring the wrath of an imam, Carroll and Gaiman are the two to which I would most regularly turn.

The good kind of
magical realism?
In this, an early work, the narrative is centred on a woman with the unlikely name of Cullen, who as a discombobulated young person has an abortion which she both regrets and is relieved to have had. She inhabits two different realms, one “real” and one a dream-scape; one where she finds unconditional love and peace with the man she should have been with originally; and one where she is guiding a small child named Pepsi through a land towards some as yet unseen goal, accompanied by benevolent (so she thinks) monster animals with hats. The clued up amongst you will probably have spotted the pretty obvious device here, and frankly, it wasn’t really a shock to me either. Pepsi appears to be (and is later confirmed as) her aborted son.

At this point, I might want to say that as far as stories about the lives aborted foetuses may have had go, this fares particularly poorly when put up against something of the scope of Where The Dead Live by Will Self, a blisteringly brilliant novel on many levels. In fact, I might go further and say that I feel the author is often living in his own world, occasionally spilling bits onto paper and allowing the reader vaguely connected but incomplete access thereto. Look hard enough at his work and you will spot cameos from many characters in other books – in this case the director Weber Gregston, star of what some might call a “morbid yet subtle psychological horror story”, A Child Across The Sky. Recurring characters and motifs, and preposterous fantasy realms make for some difficulty in suspending disbelief sufficiently for me, a properly jaded reader, to enjoy his novels properly.

And yet (he says again) enjoy them I do, even if not in their entirety. Carroll has a disturbing flair with his dream-like situations, and produces works which are moreish even as they are fleetingly remembered. Whilst not whole and hearty fare like that of Gaiman, it is delicate and dangerous, to a degree, and definitely a worthwhile addition to a fantasy fan’s library. Horror, however, these books are not. For a fuller exploration of just what horror is (pre-Saw splatter fests), please refer to Brian Lumley.


*Forgive the sporting reference at this point, but as a Liverpool (Football Club) fan I find myself uneasy with such regular use of the name “Carroll” and will therefore try to limit it from here on in. 

2 comments:

  1. Gaiman has said repeatedly that he thinks Carroll is one of the best living writers, and that BONES OF THE MOON was the inspiration for his own A GAME OF YOU (which he dedicated to Carroll and Tori Amos btw)

    Astrid B.

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    1. Indeed, and he waxes lyrical on Carroll's merits on JC's own website (http://www.jonathancarroll.com/about/introduction.html) but also hints at lacunae in the oeuvre with the phrase "His most successful books and tales defy genre categorisation", leaving space for an interpretation by the cynic of a hierarchy of value. I would suggest JC is as self-indulgent as any other writer and shouldn't be pilloried for it, but his eyes see things differently from mine.

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