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Voice of Our Shadow
Jonathan Carroll
Gollancz, 189 pages

Voice of Our Shadow
Jonathan Carroll
Jonathan Carroll was born in 1949 in New York. His father was a screenwriter; his mother an actress and lyricist. He attended Rutgers University then the University of Virginia. He became an English teacher, eventually moving to the American International School in Vienna, Austria, in 1974. Carroll still lives in Vienna with his family.

Jonathan Carroll Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Wooden Sea
SF Site Interview: Jonathan Carroll
SF Site Reading List: Jonathan Carroll
SF Site Review: The Land of Laughs
SF Site Review: The Marriage of Sticks and Kissing the Beehive
SF Site Review: The Marriage of Sticks
SF Site Review: Kissing the Beehive
SF Site Review: From The Teeth of Angels

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Jonathan Carroll is one of the most respected contemporary fantasists, and one of those most accepted by the literary mainstream. This is due in part to his graceful prose, and in part to the fact that his novels tend to be set in the present day, and to feature fantastical intrusions into otherwise fairly mundane storylines. This early novel, his second (from 1983), has been chosen as the 25th in the Gollancz (formerly Millennium) series of Fantasy Masterworks. This praiseworthy series, as with its sister series of Science Fiction Masterworks, consists of very reasonably priced large sized paperback reprints of highly respected genre books. My only quibble with the series is the choice of editions to reproduce -- some of them seem to be photocopies of mass market paperbacks, complete with original typos, and with fonts that don't necessarily work well in reproduction (especially at these larger sizes), and with relatively low quality paper. This seems to be the case with Voice of Our Shadow: the typography is very muddy, and not very attractive at all (though the copy editing quality is sound). I suppose, in all honesty, that at these quite attractive prices we must expect corners to have been cut somewhere.

Voice of Our Shadow is the story of Joe Lennox. He grows up in upstate New York (I assume), fairly happily, except for his older brother's habit of persecuting him. Joe has a fairly predictable mixture of love, awe, and hate for his brother. (This last quite justified, in my mind: his brother, as described, is quite a monster.) Then his brother dies in a terrible accident, at least partly Joe's fault, and his mother goes insane as a result. Joe becomes a writer, and gains a comfortable income from the play and movie rights derived from a short story he writes about his brother. But the successful play and movie diverge quite a bit from the original story. So you have quite a recipe for guilt: a brother dead, and a mother insane then dead -- his fault. Plus, his affluence is due entirely to a story based on his brother's life -- and the money made from the story is arguably not even due to his efforts, but to the efforts of the adapters. Still, Joe is modestly happy, living in Vienna, fairly lonely but otherwise in fine shape.

Then two people enter: Paul and India Tate, a slightly older couple who sweep him into their life. Joe is fascinated by the two of them: their conversation, their imagination, and, inevitably, India's sexiness. But for quite some time all is well, until Paul leaves on a trip, and India and Joe spend enough time together to realize their mutual attraction. Before long, events have taken the expected turn. When Paul discovers the affair, things take a still more tragic turn, as Paul dies of a heart attack. Joe's fault again? Up to this point the book has seemed entirely "mainstream", but Joe and India find themselves tormented by Paul's malicious ghost. Joe soon returns to New York, where he meets yet another beautiful woman, ratcheting his guilt quotient a bit higher... until the shocking ending.

This is a very nicely written book. It shows off what I can already identify, on very brief acquaintance with Carroll's work, a few of his favorite materials: the city of Vienna (where he has lived for some time), women characters who seem to me to resemble Jenna Elfman (the star of the sitcom Dharma and Greg), and upstate New York. It's quite short, and it makes involving reading. But it didn't quite work. I think my main objection was that I could never really believe in the characters: not in Joe Lennox, nor Paul Tate, but especially not in the two women who so suddenly fall in love with Joe. (To be sure, the shock ending arguably explains away a lot of those problems, but by then, seems to me, the damage is done.) There is no denying Carroll's ability with words, and I'd still recommend trying his work. I suspect, however, that Voice of Our Shadow is far from his best novel (I have only read three of his books, but I would at least rank Bones of the Moon well above it) -- as such, I will say I find it an unusual choice for the Fantasy Masterworks series.

Copyright © 2002 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area. He writes a monthly short fiction review column for Locus. Stop by his website at

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