Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Microreview [book]: Carnivalesque, by Neil Jordan

A changeling myth through the mirror....

Image result for carnivalesque book
Neil Jordan’s new novel Carnivalesque joins a line of books that use carnivals and circuses as a link to the supernatural—from Bradbury’s classic Something Wicked This Way Comes (one of my absolute favorite books)  to the short-lived but rightly beloved Carnivale television show to the more recent novel Night Circus (which I think I’m the only person in the world who thinks is just okay). Jordan is probably best known as a filmmaker of such works as Interview with the Vampire, The Crying Game, and The Butcher Boy; however, he also has written quite a few novels and story collections over the course of his career. I’m usually a fan of his movies, though I think they are also a mixed bag where idea doesn’t always hold up. His books, though, I’ve been consistently impressed with (particularly the slowly creeping Mistaken). This latest one seems destined to make Jordan’s writing career as well known as his filmic one.

Carnivalesque combines a changeling myth (it’s a good year for changelings! See also my review of LaValle’s The Changeling from this summer) with the more recent lore of carnivals as magical. A young boy on the cusp of being a teen goes to the carnival with his family and goes into a mirror maze. The boy who comes out is no longer the same one who went in. The story then splits into two paths: the boy left at the carnival and his changeling double who goes home with the parents. While this would seem to be a very blundering metaphor for puberty, Jordan is actually seeking something deeper—the idea of change and how much we can know the people we love. Does he succeed at the deeper questions?

Yes and no. Where Something Wicked This Way Comes beautifully evoked childhood, nostalgia, and a sense of loss through these things by using the ephemerality and liminality of a traveling circus, Jordan only half succeeds in doing so. His lyrical writing and imagery is gorgeous throughout and his depiction of the relationship between mother and lost son is lovely and heartbreaking. However, where it doesn’t work as well are in the more full-blown fantastic moments. The climax feels rushed and deus ex machina-ed.

Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, though, as Jordan’s films often most succeed or fail by their characters (Interview works because the vampires feel so deeply, humanly flawed whereas Byzantium doesn’t work nearly as well because the vampires relationships feel less fully etched than their mythos does). This misunderstanding of where the heart of the story lies can be clearly seen by the book’s ending. The second to last chapter is beautiful and haunting—showing where the story was all along. The chapter after it feels like a misstep by returning to the overarching plot mechanics.

For fans of folklore and carnivals, this book fits neatly into a long line. It’s well written, deeply engaging, and shows off Jordan’s skill as a written storyteller in addition to his visual storytelling prowess. However, it falls closer—for me—to the missed greatness of The Night Circus than to the soaring masterpiece of Something Wicked.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for featuring a spooky house of mirrors (one of my biggest literary crushes)

Penalties: -1 for some missteps

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 “
an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws


POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016.Follow her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.