This was my first Jonathan Carroll novel, and based on this one I'm certainly interested in reading more of his work.
Although a part of the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, this is actually a character drama which slowly unfolds into a magical realism/horror story. In fact, there is no actual fantastic element introduced until well into the second half of the book, which is certainly not what one expects from something billed as a fantasy novel, and yet it works. The interplay between the characters has, fairly weak dialogue aside, a great degree of verisimilitude. One of the real strengths behind this book was that in addition to characters struggling with the discovery of magical elements in the real world, the characters are also struggling with daddy issues, self-discovery, self-empowerment, and yes, even a romantic affair (the staple of seemingly every literary fiction novel). The characters are not perfect, they battle their own flaws...just like real people.
Ultimately, this is also a book about being a reader and having a favourite author, which is something a lot of readers can relate to. When Thomas and Saxony first meet, they don't instantly fall in love, but instead form a bond based on their mutual obsession with the works of the reclusive children's author Marshall France. The novel chronicles Thomas and Saxony's quest to write the first and only official biography of France's life, and as they begin to do so, the strangeness of France's chosen home, the quiet town of Galen, Missouri, starts to become terrifyingly apparent. This is where the fantasy and horror elements creep into the story, and make for a bizarre, yet un-put-downable ending. Carroll expertly portrays the mystique of Marshall France (even including some very well-written snippets of France's books, written in a prose style completely unlike Carroll's), and makes the reader understand why his work so captivates the main characters.
This is a great book, and I was shocked to learn that this was Jonathan Carroll's debut novel. I'm looking forward to reading more of this man's work, as I feel that he made a very good start and still has a lot of runway left.