Sleeping in Flame by Jonathan Carroll

February 25, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

Jonathan Carroll is an extremely frustrating author. Previously, my poster child for the frustration I had was Neal Gaiman. It’s not surprising they are connected this way, since Gaiman frequently cites Carroll as an inspiration. However I would say that Carroll is twice the writer Gaiman is, and at any rate Gaiman shut me up by (badly in my opinion but others disagree) trying to reform with American Gods. With Carroll, my frustration isn’t that he’s not trying to write a book of signifigance, because I think he ultimately is, but that he apparently pays such little attention to the plot. The closest analogue to this book I have read is China Mieville’s King Rat, but that book was far more cohesive, even if the characters were less well drawn. Here as always Carroll is a master when it comes to characterization. No other author makes me buy into a book’s characters the way I do for Carroll’s. However, I just don’t care about the plot. The characters of the book also have an attitude toward pseudoscience I found distasteful. There was a line that particularly underscored this that I won’t quote verbatim, but essentially a character muses that what they really need as “a good tarot reader or an astute palmist”. For the sake of a book I will go along with the author on a single bit of ridiculousness. In other words, I’ll spot you tarot if I have to, but tarot and palmistry? And the character did not mean that as a complete list, but was instead referring to the spectrum of lame “alternative” science. Of course, this would have been swept aside if I had been enjoying the plot rather than keeping myself interested by scrutinizing the characters and how they thought. Ultimately I can’t give a writer with Carroll’s obvious talents less than three stars even though I found this the least successful of the three books of his I have read to this point. Fans of the magical realism style will probably enjoy this, but if you haven’t read Carroll before start with Land of Laughs (and, perhaps, consider stopping there as well).

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