Thursday, August 26, 2010
The Land of Laughs
The 2nd of the C's in the challenge.
To tell the truth I was not expecting to like this book. I actually winced when I saw Carroll's name on the list. I had picked up and put down a number of his books over the years. I looked at them and for some reason something about them always told me that I wasn't going to like them.
Initially I felt that The Land of Laughs was going to bear out my misgivings. I didn't take to the central character of Thomas Abbey straight away, and considering that he's the narrator of the story that could have caused a problem. However after a few chapters I began to warm to him and started to enjoy his somewhat unusual way of looking at the world and his use of words.
Thomas is a bored English teacher at an East Coast preparatory school (think of Dead Poets Society's Wellton), he's the son of a dead Oscar winning actor, and sees this as more of a curse than a blessing, he decides to take a sabbbatical to write a biography of his favourite author; dead children's writer Marshall France (the name of the book is actually France's best known work), it is at about this time that Thomas meets with fellow Marshall France fan, the quirky puppeteer Saxony Gardner. Thomas starts a relationship with Saxony and she sort of invites herself on his project, becoming his researcher.
Marshall France proves to be a mysterious character. What Saxony and Thomas find out about him is contradicted by others in his life, most notably his editor and his daughter. When Thomas and Saxony go to France's hometown; the sleepy, mid western hamlet of Galen, Missouri things start to get weird.
The town itself appears to be normal enough, although it and it's inhabitants seem to be stuck in a time warp. Judging by the references made to songs and TV shows in the book it's set in the late 1970's, but Galen seems to be permanently stuck in the 1950's. Thomas makes a number of references to things in Galen being like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. There's something unreal about the people themselves, they all seem to defer to Marshall France's daughter, the formidable Anna France, as if she controls the town. The creepiest thing for me was the preponderance of pit bull terriers. I like dogs, but pit bulls are just creepy. It's then that the reader realises they're in the middle of a very odd mystery.
It was a wonderfully written tale and kept me turning the pages to find out what it was about Marshall France, his daughter, the town and the stories he wrote. That was another great thing about The Land of Laughs, Marshall's stories. There are tantalising references to them and some of the characters in them and I found myself hoping that they were real books, so I could read them. I had to keep reminding myself that they weren't real, worse luck.
A fun and surprising read. It's always nice to get something out of a book you don't initially have a lot of hope for. I haven't read a lot else like it, but Jeremy Leven's wonderful and criminally underrated Creator (the book, the movie was a good try, but didn't hit the mark) deals with the same theme of fiction becoming reality, it came out at about the same time as well.