What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
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 TheGhost 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.