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White Apples

by Jonathan Carroll

(Tor UK, 259 pages, paperback, 10.99, April 2003. US editions: Tor Books, hardcover, 304 pages, 1 September 2002, ISBN: 0765303884; paperback, 304 pages, 1 July 2003, ISBN: 0765304015.)

Jonathan Carroll's White Apples is one of the lead titles of the new Tor UK imprint, cover scanlaunched in the UK in March. Victor Ettrich is a philanderer who one day discovers that he has died and then returned to the world, where his new 'life' is intimately bound up with the lives of former lovers, girlfriends and wives; and with the mysterious and sexy Coco. Victor, it turns out, had before he died impregnated Isabelle, the only woman he ever really loved, and now he has returned to help educate his child. The fact that he does not know why or how he has been reincarnated means that this education is not going to be easy.

I struggled with this. It is perhaps not the author's best book (compare Outside The Dog Museum). Victor Ettrich, for instance, is hardly the engaging character that the blurb would have us believe. As with some of today's pop superstars, the egocentric personality traits that Ettrich might describe as eccentric charms are in fact irritating, and do not help the reader sympathise with him, or even, as the novel winds on, remain interested in him. And while his plight, responses and decisions are sometimes interesting, the densely described world that he inhabits is perhaps too densely described, making this book read like a description of an as yet unreleased (and rather noirish) Hollywood film--I felt as if I was reading against a strong current.

Despite the central position of Victor, it is the women who are the most interesting people, idiosyncratically described, alive and breathing, and yet, at the end, curiously empty--rather like Victor. The prose style and particularly the subject matter make this the sort of book that many would describe as literary, but alas it came across to me as self-consciously literary. Rather a pity. I wanted to like and enjoy this one.

Review by Stephen Palmer.

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