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The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll

Wait, how DO you row across a wooden sea?
Jonathan Carroll poses two problems to me, as a book reviewer. The first is not the usual one with which I’m faced when contemplating a favourite author, but rather one of device, trope, hook – in short, a theme for the review. Carroll’s works are large in scope even when centred in small, parochial settings. They are not easily pigeon-holed, despite the complacent person’s tendency to bung them into the fantasy genre (indeed, I have an aged Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks version of The Land of Laughs), and are as spiritual as they are fantastical. They have an ease of language that often belies some hard-edged writing, and pretty much anyone in any given book could die or is already dead, even and sometimes especially the ubiquitous bullet-headed English Bull Terriers. So, what then, should I do to properly frame this review and subsequent Carroll critiques (for there will be more, with at least The Ghost in Love and A Child Across The Sky waiting in the wings)?
Perhaps theme-less-ness is as good a context as any. Indeed, with other contemporaneous contexts encompassing Neil Himself, and further out, Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, maybe Carroll occupies natural lacunae between other genres, and thus he forces his own niche in the publishing world. In The Wooden Sea Carroll has a rebellious teen turned respectable, confronted by his youthful self (and his aged sexagenarian self too), embroiled in a super- and supra-natural mystery, with time travel, death, disappearances, and, yup, aliens. Plus, there’s the dog. All told from the first person perspective of present-day Frannie McCabe, it unfolds quickly, from the first appearance of the three-legged pooch and precipitated by its almost instantaneous death. There’s feathers, a bizarre Dutchman, a friend high up on the autism spectrum, a wife and former lover, magical tattoos, coffee, angels / aliens, wholesale reality warping, as mentioned time travel, and more death. In all, it’s an engrossing and thoroughly entertaining novel, with moments of poignancy, slap-stick comedy, ok, there’s some fantasy too, and a whole lot of beautiful things to consider. I’d previously said that Carroll sees things in a different way to me, and frankly I’m glad, as he acutely de-familiarises things in a way which is a delight to behold and does pose a question or two for the reader. I’m not surprised that Neil Himself likes him so much. So without further plot spoilers, it only leaves me to say this book is marvellous, in a best-book-I’ve-read-by-this-author kind of way. I burned straight through it, and it’s one that’s going to live in the little cracks of my mind for quite some time.
Incidentally, the second problem, sadly, reflects a slightly embarrassing personal issue I have, as an armchair advocate for the footballing fraternity that is Liverpool Football Club, with ex-LFC footballers by the name of Carroll… But I shan’t bore you with that one.

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