Award-winning author, narrator, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman personally selected this book, and, using the tools of the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), cast the narrator and produced this work for his audiobook label, Neil Gaiman Presents.
A few words from Neil on The Land of Laughs: "I chose The Land of Laughs for Neil Gaiman Presents because I love Jonathan Carroll's books and want to bring them to as wide an audience as possible. I suspected the character of Thomas Abbey would be both a challenge and an opportunity for the right narrator. Edoardo Ballerini conveys a certain wistfulness and vulnerability underneath Abbey's grumpiness."
Thomas Abbey is a man stuck in a rut. An English teacher in a small Connecticut prep school, Abbey is in a crisis. His career is unfulfilling, he has no social or love life to speak of, and he cannot break out of the shadow of his famous father, the actor Stephen Abbey. To kick-start his life, he takes a sabbatical to work on a biography of his favorite writer, Marshall France. France's books were the only thing that kept Abbey sane during his childhood, and though he was renowned for his lyrical and imaginative children's books, nearly nothing was known about the writer's life.
Although Abbey has been warned that France's daughter, Anna, has blocked all previous attempts at her father's biography, he and Saxony Garder - an intense woman also obsessed with France's life - head to Galen, Missouri, with high hopes of breaking down Anna's resistance. They are surprised to find Anna the soul of small-town hospitality and quite excited about Abbey's proposal - even eager to get the project finished as soon as possible.
Even stranger than Anna's behavior is the town of Galen itself. On the surface, all is as a small Midwestern town should be. But the people of the town seem to know what their future holds - freak accidents and all - down to the hour and are as eager for Abbey to finish the biography as Anna is.
To hear more from Neil Gaiman on The Land of Laughs, click here, or listen to the introduction at the beginning of the book itself.
©1980 Jonathan Carroll (P)2011 Richard Parks
"Edoardo Ballerini perfectly captures the hesitant and faltering Thomas Abbey, a schoolteacher who wants to write the biography of his favorite children's author, the mysterious Marshall France. Thomas's story starts out realistically enough, but when he and his girlfriend take a research trip to France's hometown in Missouri, things begin to veer into the bizarre. Ballerini makes the listener sympathize with Thomas, even as he begins an affair with France's daughter, Anna, a woman obsessed with her dead father. Ballerini's command of Thomas's character and his spot-on voices for the secondary characters ground the story as it becomes more fantastical and the listener learns that either things aren't what they seem or Thomas is not entirely sane. An unsettling examination of obsession." (AudioFile)
I had not read or even heard of Jonathan Carroll before I came across this suggestion from the estimable Mr Gaiman. And I am very glad that I did because this book is so compelling, so enthralling, and at the same time quite, quite disturbing, that one is hooked from the very start.
It seems a trait with Carroll's work that the story itself, the real meat as it were, never really gets going until about two-thirds of the way through. The last third is where the action is at yet the rest is about the fleshing out of the characters, the setting of the tone, the background, everything that makes a masterpiece what it is. And despite all this apparent extraneous padding you still want to hear it. You want to know what makes the characters tick, their faults, their foibles, because I have yet to come across anyone who better portrays real people, complete with hang-ups and doubts, as does Jonathan Carroll.
The title of this book is the title of a fictional book by an author much admired by the main protagonists. That so much detail of this fictional book is included makes one wish that it was for real, so fantastical are the characters and clues to the mythical text.
The end, when one eventually gets there, is fairly predictable. You can sense how things are going to pan out and yet it is still a surprise when the inevitable happens.
Edoardo Ballerini narrated this story impeccably and, as a result, will have me hunting down more of his work.
Buy, listen and be beguiled.
Say something about yourself!
This debut novel by Jonathan Carroll deserves to be discovered by many more listeners. If you love a story that slowly slides from reality into fantasy and horror then this is the audio for you. Introduced and recommended by Neil Gaiman it also had a host of fantastic reviews at the time of its release, including Ruth Rendell.
"It's Not You - It's Me"
I got half way through this book and was so. intrigued. Here we had this utterly delectable little novel with a great premise, wonderful characters, and an completely unique perspective, and by the time I got right smack dab in the middle of it I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out what diabolical mystery it could all be building up to. And then I found out and all I could think was "oh, is that all? well I can tell where this is headed".
And the book rolled on. And it ended just like I thought it would (I really loved the closing lines though) which afforded me the opportunity to nod sagely to myself while listening to my ipod between classes and ruminate on the inadvisability of trying to predict plot twists. For a long time after I sat and mulled over why I thought it was that I didn't enjoy the latter half of this book as much as the former. I think its because I've just read, if at all possible, too much fantasy. If you know your tropes you can spot this one from a mile away.
But I still liked everything else about it. And obviously I am in the minority in my opinion about not being so hot on it. I don't mean to seem self congratulatory for having figured it out, that's not my intention. I was just hoping for something different. That being said I do not consider this to have been a waste of a credit - I still enjoyed the story, I'm still utterly fascinated by the characters and Ballerini did a fantastic job in bringing it all to life. Quibbles aside, I still recommend it.
In the end I think this book did what it was supposed to do - it introduced me to an author I never would have heard about otherwise, and it made me want to listen to his other works (I've added everything else he offers through Neil Gaiman Presents to my wish list). While this might not have been a strong entry into his cannon for me personally, I can tell he's someone whose work will appeal to me and I look foreword to listening to more first chance I get.
"Didn't quite pull together"
This is the third Neil Gaiman-recommended book I've listened to recently (Light and Pavane are the others) -- and it will probably be the last. I haven't really found any of them inspiring in the audiobook format. This one has a pretty good premise, but the story seems to get sidetracked with unnecessary stuff, and the ending was anticlimactic.
I got this because I was looking for horror. Turns out it's really more interested in exploring what happens when you live for your art rather than living for actual life.
Fans of metaphor and hyperbole will love this book. See, the way Jonathan Carroll rolls is to describe things using biting quips that echo what pops into our heads day-to-day -- for example, your lover doesn't "cling so tightly to you that you have to peel yourself away in the morning"; instead, she "scotch-tapes herself to you".
As for the narrator, Ballerini does a great job with the male leads but it gets hard to tell the voices of the main female leads apart.
The reviewing format that audio has set up can be helpful, but in this case makes it difficult to say what I liked and disliked without "spoiling" this book. Because as with the other Jonathan Carroll book I read, "White Apples" I loved the book with reservations. What I loved was the amazing imagination at work here. My favorite sort of speculative fiction is a book that changes one thing about life as we know it, and plays with that concept. This book does that splendidly. I was enthralled. Which was a good thing, because as with "White Apples", I found the egocentric main character and very hard to empathize with. He treats the female characters as useful tools to be used and disgarded, with no real human attachment. Despite this,I would still recommend this book. It was a fascinating read.
"Best of the not so good"
This is my fourth Gaimen Presents book. Audible had a good idea in choosing someone to to do this, but I believe they choose the wrong man. A look at the ratings of most of the Gaimen Presents books show that he has not done a good job. The ratings suck on most of the books. Having said that I liked this book. It is an odd quirky thing, that is hard to fit into any genre. I liked the main character until he started cheating on his girlfriend and then I saw him as a creep. The book did mange to keep my attention and never was I bored. It also was never great with the exception of the epilogue. The epilogue is probably one of the best I have ever read. The theme of the story is similar to Redshirts by Scalzi.
Why do some reviewers repeat what is in the summary? Just tell us how you liked the book, we don't need long summaries of the story which is given to us already.
The narrator was okay. He did not pronounce Rolla, correctly. You would thing that is something he would have find out about before recording.
"Stunning mix of author and narrator"
The stunning narration of Edoardo Ballerini is more than a reading: it is an acting out. He becomes the voice of Thomas Abbey, a rather hapless man who counters the effect on his life of being the son of a famous person with a powerful obsession: he hopes to write the biography of an author whose books have been a hugely important part of his life.
Carroll's words -- at times almost luminous with associations and details -- paint picture after picture, lingering on images that cleverly and gradually contribute to evocative images of place, people and the community of Galen, Missouri. The reader responds to the characters because they have come alive.
The reader also becomes ensnared in a web of ingeniously presented improbabilities, and the mind tries to counter them with normalities -- hoping Abbey will discover the normal despite participating in dangerous unknowns.
This book touches on aspects of human experience: of vulnerability, trust, love, caring, mind control.
It also explores how we perceive our world -- what hopes and values we bring to our reactions and decisions.
Rich pickings indeed. There's even the ever tantalising concept of predestination somewhere in there!
"I don't get it"
This is just not a very engaging story line. I don't get why Neil Gaiman, who i really like, is so enamored with this story. It just isn't that interesting. Got about halfway through and stopped listening to it as it started to become a chore.
The story is simply not that interesting.
yes, he was good.
It's not the worst book I've ever listened to, but it just didn't keep me interested.
I am not sure what the hell it is that I just read exactly, but oddly enough I liked it. It was well written and the narration was not bad. It reads more like standard fiction than sci-fi until near the end of the book when you suddenly get slapped in the face. The story revolves around relationships and the quirkiness of small town life meshed with a rather unexpected, zany secret. I strongly suggest not going into this book with any expectations in your head as to what it's supposed to be or you will be disappointed. If you can manage to wrap your head around that idea early on, then you may find yourself enjoying it as I had.
"Better off as a short-story?"
This is a tale with great ideas, and reasonably well-written, but lacks pace. Most of the characters are not particularly likeable, and the performance is average; little more. I feel that it would have been better off as a short story.
"Written with intelligence and humor"
An usual book. It's a page turner and yet you really don't know where the plot is taking you. The characters are original and richly developed. Both enjoyable and intelligent.
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