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Voice of Our Shadow: Fantasy Masterworks 25
by Jonathan Carroll
(Gollancz, £6.99, 189 pages, paperback, first published 1983, this edition 24 January 2002.)

Jonathan Carroll's second novel (first published in 1983) seems an odd cover scanchoice as a "Fantasy Masterwork", not having the reputation of his first, The Land of Laughs, or his "Answered Prayers" quintet which began with his next novel, Bones of the Moon. It's a book that demonstrates many of Carroll's strengths, but some of his flaws as well.

Joe Lennox's older brother died in a rail accident, for which Joe continues to feel some guilt. Earning a good living from a play adaptation of a short story he wrote, Joe settles in Vienna. There he meets an eccentric American couple, India and Paul Tate. India is an artist and Paul a magician. Joe is fascinated by the couple, who - like his dead brother - seem far more glamorous than he could possibly be. And over time, Joe falls in love with India. Paul finds out, with tragic and dangerous consequences.

As with many of Carroll's novels, he establishes a real world with characters of three-dimensional solidity, before introducing any fantasy element. Voice of Our Shadow is a very short novel (only about 65,000 words), possibly too short to be commercially published as a new novel nowadays. But even so, it's more than halfway through, with Paul's death and his return as a ghost, that anything out of the ordinary happens.

Carroll's novel is as beautifully written as always, and certain scenes (such as the Playboy centrefolds with certain additions) are genuinely jolting. But you sense that he wasn't, at this stage of his career, fully in control of the novel form. Read this for a fine build-up and assured development, which compensate for the way the novel falls apart in an unsatisfactory final act.

Review by Gary Couzens.

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© Gary Couzens 20 July 2002