Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

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“And the thing that was not Andy walked outside to be swept up into his mother’s arms, and he was in the mirror now.”

This is a bizarre story. When Andy walks into Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors, his reflection steps out, going home to live his life with his parents and poor Andy is trapped inside of the the mirrors, a silent reflection of his former self. A girl (Mona) finds him  in the mirrors and pulls him out, into a strange carnival world. He is hers to keep, she found him, no one else! Her hands… though she looks young, ‘There was something either very old, that should have died a long time ago, or something very new, that had not yet been born, about those hands.”  She doesn’t have a true age, she is a talented trapeze artist yet not the sort his world is familiar with.  Everything is different here, even time itself.  He will come to understand the eerie truth about her and all the inhabitants of this mysterious world. They are myths, stories…  Is this where all the changelings go, or is it where the come from entering our own world? Andy’s mother feels something is different about her son on their way home, his father imagines the boy is just growing up. It made me feel terribly sad, because teenagers can feel like changelings, as they shake off the skin of their youth, no longer needing you quite in the same way. Naturally here, it’s more fantastical and Andy isn’t Andy, not really. Deep in her being, his mother knows it- but will she ever be reunited with the true Andy? And just how does his father play into everything? Is this a story about growing up, is the ‘changeling’ aspect simply a splitting of sorts- to represent the moment Andy departs his boyhood and steps onto the path of adulthood? Everything exists as is, and questions aren’t really meant to be answered. It’s a story you can take away meaning or simply enjoy the fantasy of it.

The real Andy is living in a strange world transforming into a carny himself, becoming strong and capable until he almost feels that other life never existed, as if it were a dream. He is privy to the secrets, the strange mysteries of the people and their seemingly endless lives. There is a mysterious mold they scrape, vital to their survival… And what of Burleigh, the creator of ‘mirrors’- the man Andy’s mother had a strange encounter with? Just why isn’t he a part of the carnival anymore? When Andy has the chance to go back, does he? Can we ever go back to being a beloved little child?

There is a fairy-tale quality, even though most carnival or ‘freak show’ stories are usually magical realism, this one has an ancient feel to it, not magical and not fairy-tale but sort of both, I didn’t feel like I was in modern times, which was nice. But I didn’t expect to feel heavy and sad, I know- how many genuine, original fairy-tales have happy endings? How many characters go on to capture their butterflies of happiness? Not many. Andy wants to know what ‘the Land of Spices’ they talk about it is, now that he is ‘part of the story’. ‘You can be part of the story.’ Mona was saying, and never know the whole of it.’ Just what is his part? How did he stumble into this place? Is he meant to remain in the carnival where instead of memories, which living people like him carry inside of them, they have stories. Stories are the places they come from. Is this a lifeless place?

It was a strange read, and there were times I had to push myself through, but I am curious and wanted to know how it would end. It’s a uniquely written novel, not like anything I’ve read before. I love, love LOVE “The Company of Wolves”- I own the DVD! I’ve made my kids watch it, and this novel has a similar feel. You don’t really know what ‘you know’.  It’s a strange film, if you haven’t seen it- I urge you too, if you have weird taste like me. The famous Angela Lansbury was in it, and it was written by Angela Carter-I mention it because this author, Neil Jordan directed it. With that said, I can feel a similar oddness in Carnival. Much like the film I mentioned, with this novel I walked away picking it apart and losing threads of meaning, because you can’t quite pin it down. Maybe that’s the point.

Publication Date: June 6, 2017

Bloomsbury USA

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