Preparing for a recent interview with Carroll, I reread a pair of his earlier works to reacquaint myself with his unique storytelling style and the themes and motifs he returns to again and again. Sampling The Land of Laughs and Outside the Dog Museum again was pure pleasure--notable for their memorable lead characters, and for the nimble way Carroll depicts the intersection of the fantastic and the ordinary, both books demonstrate why Carroll is one of the most respected fantasists working today. Reading those books, however, did little to prepare me for the overall eloquence and bravado of Carroll's latest effort, Glass Soup.
Building on characters and situations established in his previous novel, 2004's estimable White Apples, Glass Soup tells the continuing story of lovers Vincent Ettrich and Isabelle Nuekor, a couple whose relationship can only be described as extraordinary--their love is so strong that Isabelle actually succeeded in rescuing Vincent from death. Because all actions have consequences, and extraordinary actions have extraordinary consequences, Isabelle's rescue of Vincent causes Chaos to actually achieve consciousness, an awareness he/it will lose if things are allowed to progress the way they have since the beginning of time. Seeking to shift the cosmic balance in his favor, Chaos works through various emissaries to lure the now pregnant Isabelle back to the land of the dead; it seems that if her baby is born there, Chaos will remain sentient. Before the novel's touching conclusion, Isabelle's dilemma will touch the lives of all those around her in surprising and sometimes lethal ways.
Along the way, Carroll waxes poetic about the nature of love, friendship, responsibility and the very fabric of reality. Even the pettiest of his characters manage to evoke sympathy, primarily because the villains of the piece are manipulating them in heinous ways. And those villains--Carroll knows heroes need formidable foes, which he provides in the malicious John Flannery and the smooth as silk Putnam. These two positively ooze evil as they try to force Vincent and Isabelle into increasingly untenable positions.
Charming and absolutely enthralling, Glass Soup displays the creativity, intelligence and wit for which Carroll has become famous. As it says on the front flap of the book's dust jacket, "For connoisseurs of imaginative fiction, the novels of Jonathan Carroll are a special treat that occupy a space of their own." Glass Soup is perhaps the best example of that phenomenon to date.