Sunday, 20 July 2003

Jonathan Carroll: Kissing the Beehive (1998)

Edition: Vista, 1999
Review number: 1172

Most of Carroll's novels have fantastical elements - spirits, blurred boundaries between fiction and reality, and so on - even if they start out seemingly realist. Kissing the Beehive is an exception to this, and is thus less individual than Carroll's other novels. It lies more within the crime than the fantasy genre, though it has other elements.

The central character and narrator of Kissing the Beehive, Samuel Beyer, is himself a best-selling novelist, who at the beginning of the novel is suffering from writer's block. We seem to be about to have a novel about the ideas he has and discards, rather like Joseph Heller's Portrait of an Artist, As an Old Man. He fairly quickly has an idea - he returns to the small New England town where he grew up, and begins to write about one of the most dramatic experiences of his childhood, when he and a friend found the body of a young woman while swimming in the creek. Again, Carroll confounds the expectations - the reader things that the remainder of Kissing the Beehive is to be some kind of voyage of self-discovery. In a way this is true, but the novel is far more complicated than that. When someone begins to kill the people Sam interviews, and starts leaving him taunting messages, we move partly into thriller territory. And then there is his relationship with a beautiful but obsessive fan - shades of Stephen King's Misery.

The magical commonplaces of Carroll's writing seems to be entirely absent; there are no talking dogs, ghosts of alternate realities. But the quality is still there; this is one of the best novels I have read all year.

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