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BOOK REVIEW: Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

| 29 April 2017 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

April 2017
Paperback, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Speculative Fiction / Young Adult / General Fiction


It looked like any other carnival, but of course it wasn’t.

It had its own little backstreets, its alleyways of hanging bulbs and ghost trains and Punch and Judy stands .

And at the end of one he saw the Hall of Mirrors. There were looping strings of carnival lights leading towards it, and a large sign in mirrored glass reading ‘Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors’ and the sign reflected the lights in all sorts of magically distorted ways.

A tracery of lights gleams through suburbia. Fourteen-year-old Andy and his parents stop the car. To them, this looks like any other carnival: creaking ghost train, rusty rollercoaster and painted circus folk. But of course it isn’t. 

Leaving his parents to whispered arguments, Andy finds himself inside Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors, hypnotised by the many selves that stare back at him.

Sometime later, one of these selves walks out and rejoins his parents – leaving Andy trapped inside the glass; to be released and transported to a paradoxical paradise where gravity is meaningless and time performs acrobatic tricks.

Meanwhile, an identical stranger inhabits Andy’s life, disquieting his mother with an otherworldly blankness.
Intoxicating and kaleidoscopic, Carnivalesque is a dark, twisted tale of identity and metamorphosis; confinement and freedom; adolescence and the loss of innocence.


Carnivalesque is a hard book to figure out, in that it is listed in most places as General Fiction, is a coming of age story à la many young adult titles, and the voice at times suggests it would be most suited to a middle grade audience, but there are some elements of sexual activity and plenty of gore that would render it unsuitable for this last group. So, although this is listed by the publisher as general fiction, and although the voice might make one think of fairytales for youngsters, I’m inclined to suggest that young adults, or readers of young adult titles, will get more of a kick out of this than those looking for a “grown-up” read. That said, if you shop in the speculative fiction section of the bookshop, you’ll probably find something to enjoy here, too.

There is also an issue with a fair bit of head-hopping from paragraph to paragraph. There were large stretches where this wasn’t an issue, but at times it seemed to author wanted to be in too many places all at once to focus solely on one, even for a short chapter.

These couple of discomforting elements aside, this book was a lot of fun.

The blurb sounds, if not run-of-the-mill, definitely not entirely unique, but as someone who is on their forty-fourth book of the year, I can tell you that this was hard to predict!

The world we are introduced to, on the surface, seems like any other story set in a carnival, but Jordan delivers so much more than that. In Carnivaleque we meet a race of nomadic, timeless people who do some pretty amazing things for the entertainment of their audience, but the things they do when no one is watching are even more spectacular.

This is a world of magic, and mirrors, and weightlessness, and immortality, and Fatigue with a capital F, and joy and awe so tangible you can taste it.

Some of the characters did not feel entirely well-realised, and it would have been nice to know a little more solid fact as to the circumstances of the carnies’ presence in our world, but then… the underlying theme of this book is precisely in said carnies’ aversion to being nailed down by facts, and it is said that getting a straight answer from them is nigh impossible.

Perhaps this is a case of art imitating life imitating art?

Whatever the reason the end result is a story that, while never leaving the reader completely shocked, will keep you on your toes and entertained. This reviewer will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of Neil Jordan’s work.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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