Reflection: Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

Title: Carnivalesque

Author: Neil Jordan

Goodreads Summary: It looked like any other carnival, but of course it wasn’t. The boy saw it from the car window, the tops of the large trailer rides over the parked trains by the railway tracks. His parents were driving towards the new mall and he was looking forward to that too, but the tracery of lights above the gloomy trains caught his imagination . . . 

Andy walks into Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors, and then he walks right into the mirror, becomes a reflection. Another boy, a boy who is not Andy, goes home with Andy’s parents. And the boy who was once Andy is pulled—literally pulled, by the hands, by a girl named Mona—into another world, a carnival world where anything might happen.

Master storyteller Neil Jordan creates his most commercial novel in years in this crackling, filmic fantasy—which is also a parable of adolescence, how children become changelings, and how they find their own way.

Imagine getting on a cool-looking rollercoaster and feeling your excitement build as you go up the steep incline before that first exhilarating drop, but as soon as you turn the hill expecting a thrilling sensation, the rollercoaster slows to a crawl and torpidly creeps down the slope instead. That’s how it felt reading Carnivalesque. The only difference is that you can’t hop off of a rollercoaster midway, whereas you can put a book down anytime, which is what I did.

Since this book is a DNF (as in I did not finish it), this is less of a review and more of a reflection and discussion. What makes a reader want to put a book down, and at what point should you give up on the book?

I think the most disappointing part is the fact that the story started off with so much promise! Our protagonist Andy goes to a carnival with his parents, wanders off into a mirror maze and gets entrapped in the mirrors while a doppelgänger manifests and leaves with his family. Then he tries to communicate with a carnie who enters the mirror maze, but when he speaks, his words come out completely backwards. She physically pulls Andy out of the mirror and recruits him as a carnie. This was enough to get me invested, because I wanted to know what would happen next! Who were these other carnies, what would happen to the copy of Andy, and would Andy ever make it home?

Then the book became dry.

The characters had backstory but still had little dimension, the dialogue was unnecessarily cryptic, and it felt like the important questions were being purposefully avoided. I also thought that the carnival setting would make for an amusing and luminous backdrop, but it was actually sort of boring. Every time I wanted to hear from Andy and see his amusement, confusion, or anything at all, I had to hear from the other carnies or his mother. On top of that, the whole doppelgänger thing left much to be desired.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped caring. Normally, when I am reading a book, all I want to do is read that book, but I was forcing myself to read Carnivalesque and I didn’t even realize it. I would stall by doing other things, and when I was reading it I wanted to be reading something else, anything else. At some point I realized that I didn’t care what happened next, I didn’t want to know the resolution to the story. I just wanted to be done, so I stopped reading it.

Carnivalesque, you had me, then you lost me. It’s always upsetting when I get a DNF, because whatever element of attraction that prompted me to read it is completely gone by the time I put it down.

I would love to hear other thoughts on giving up on books? How do you know when to stop reading, and how does it make you feel?


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