Jonathan Carroll occupies an unusual middle zone between the literary and the speculative – some sort of magical realism, perhaps – and generally does it well.
I hadn’t read much of Carroll’s work for some years, but Open Road Media had a great sale, and I picked up a number of his books for great prices. I also picked up Lawrence Durrell’s Justine, which I read just before this. After that wearing experience, I was somewhat hesitant to go straight on to Carroll; I recalled his work as being on one side or the other of opacity for the sake of opacity.
Voice of Our Shadow put the lie to that memory. It is, in fact, written in a very straightforward, accessible tone that’s not the slightest bit opaque. It also, unfortunately, not as good as I remembered. It is very evidently an early novel (Carroll’s second). The smooth language contrasts with the awkward plotting. It can’t have helped that there were coincidental echoes of Durrell’s love triangles, and his narrator sitting on an isolated beach.
The bulk of the book is intriguing and attractive, though I image the seemingly endless references to Viennese landmarks might tire a reader who hasn’t lived there. However, the story starts to fall apart in its final chapters, stumbles through a side trip to New York that seems like it was written for another book entirely, and finally collapses in the sort of unsatisfying ending that might have worked on a very short story, but is insufficient for even a novel this brief. It’s a shame, because the bulk of the book was good.
All in all, good and fun to read for Carroll fans, but not the best place for newcomers to start.