Carnivalesque, by Neil Jordan
It’s a drear day in Ireland and the carnival has come to town. But there’s something curious about this carnival; something inscrutably different. Something not quite natural; or maybe something supernatural. Mikhail Bakhtin writes about the carnivalesque as a space where the normal order of things is overturned, where the world is turned upside down, where fools reign as kings. It’s this carnival space that we enter into when Andy, the novel’s protagonist, walks into Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors.
One Andy walks in to Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors, and two walk out. One steps out of the mirror as a not-Andy, a “thing called Andy,” a name which “seems the best for him now, since, having appropriated the shape, the sound, the smell of the reflected one,” it is only fitting that “he would appropriate the name too.” The other is released later, once his parents are gone and the carnies are packing up. He is re-christened Dany, and Dany gets swept away with the carnival: he’s become a carnie.
While strange things coalesce around the peculiarly vacant Andy back in his parents’ house, Dany enters a paradoxical realm where immortal acrobats cling onto trapezes in order to stay on the ground, and long-forgotten legends forget about themselves. It’s this odd world that Dany needs to navigate in order to survive, and to entertain the possibility of returning home.
Neil Jordan is perhaps known better as a film director than a novelist — he counts The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire among his credits. It’s no surprise then that his prose has a cinematographer’s eye for texture and tricks of the light, for strange and wonderful creatures, and sudden shifts in intensity. Encompassing myths and legends, centuries-old magical creatures and young children growing up, Carnivalesque is a rag-tag oddball of a novel that reads as though Neil Gaiman and Angela Carter started telling spooky stories around the campfire, and couldn’t stop. And that’s a very good thing indeed.
Bloomsbury kindly provided me with a review copy of Carnivalesque