Wednesday, 14 March 2001
Jonathan Carroll: The Land of Laughs (1980)
Review number: 781
The narrator of The Land of Laughs is a young English teacher, unhappy at his job, who has been obsessed with children's author Marshall France since he was a boy. Thomas Abbey requests leave of absence from his school to write a biography of France, with the help of a young woman he meets in a bookshop when both want to buy a rare France volume. They have to travel to Galen, Missouri, where France lived for most of his life, and persuade his daughter to authorise the biography. Galen appears to be a typical mid-Western small town, but soon after Abbey's arrival, strange things start to happen.
As the novel proceeds, the fantasy elements gradually become stranger, until psychological horror takes over. To discuss the main point of the book requires important data to be given away. What Abbey discovers is that Marshall France had an incredible power - the characters he wrote about became real. He first realised this when the person on whom he had based a character died when he killed off the character. After his own demise, Galen had become entirely populated by his creations, their lives ruled by the outlines France had written.
The subject of the novel, then, is the nature of fiction, and the relationship between written characters and their author, given an ironic twist by being discussed through a work of fiction. In what sense is fiction real, and if we imagine that sense to be changed, what might happen? These issues could quickly lead into some deep philosophical waters, and Carrol avoids this, preferring to be thought provoking.