Onyx reviews: Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll
Jonathan Carroll has been developing a theory of the nature of cosmic reality
in his most recent novels, The Wooden Sea and
White Apples. He suggests that
people who die advance to a realm constructed of elements from every important
dream they've ever had. After a person realizes he's dead-which takes longer for
some than others-he must figure out why these dreams were important and come to
terms with their implications. First the benign, surreal dreams. Then the
nightmares. Eventually he evolves to a point where he becomes a tile in the
great mosaic of existence. When the mosaic is complete, it undergoes a
big-bang-like explosion and everything starts over-but each time the mosaic is
Because much of the Glass Soup is set in dream worlds-like something out of
Alice Through the Looking Glass, the work of a different Carroll-expect the
unexpected. The logic of normal reality does not apply. Three characters are
chased by a space alien, a Komodo dragon and George W. Bush. Another character
conjures up a literal Highway to Hell in which every vehicle is a version of one
of the cars she owned in her lifetime. In one of Simon Haden's recurring
dreams-one it takes him a long time to solve-he's a tour guide aboard a bus
driven by an octopus populated by regular people, cartoon characters, a
cassowary and an animate bag of caramels.
His version of God is a white polar bear named Bob.
As in The Wooden Sea, Carroll also explores the notion that every person exists
in multiple versions. In that novel, a man wanders through his life, meeting
himself at different ages. The teenage version of himself and the man he has
become are almost unrecognizable to each other. In Glass Soup, There are
different Simon Hadens, according to the people who know him, some more
likeable than others, and yet all integral parts of him. His shape in the mosaic
changes as he does.
Chaos is part of existence, but until now it was only a random force, like the
weather. However, Chaos has become self-aware and intelligent. One character
describes the situation to how it would be if weather could think. "Imagine
if lightning decided it didn't like you . . . It would come looking for you and
hurt you every chance it got." Chaos-who sometimes appears in human form as
an undistinguished man named John Flannery who is unaccountably irresistible to
women-is pleased with its state of evolution and doesn't want this current from
of the mosaic of existence to become complete. To that end, it deliberately
disrupts the lives of certain people who can thwart it. If he can transform
people into Chaos, they abandon their places in the mosaic and nothing else fits
Its two primary targets are Vincent Ettrich and his lover, Isabelle Neukor, who
live in Carroll's Vienna. At the beginning of White Apples, Vincent died but was
snatched from the realm of the dead by Isabelle, who is now pregnant with Anjo,
their son, who could help stop Chaos.
Because of Isabelle's actions, she and Vincent have a special relationship with
the living and the dead. They understand the nature of existence and know about
Chaos's scheme. Together they have incredible power, but if Chaos can trap one
or both of them in the land of the dead, he will succeed.
Vincent and Isabelle aren't alone in the battle against Chaos. Among their
allies are Simon Haden (deceased), Broximon, a tiny, dapper humanlike
creature who is probably a figment of Sterling's imagination, and Bob the divine
polar bear. Though explicit rules govern the dissemination of information among
the dead, desperate measures are called for and exceptions are made.
Glass Soup is probably not the best introduction to Carroll's mysterious
universe. Plunging straight into it without reading at least White Apples may
leave readers dazed and confused. It also ends on a note that makes it feel like
the middle book of a trilogy.
In spite of its literary, fantastical and metaphorical trappings, Glass Soup is,
at its heart, a love story. As with the myth of Orpheus, it is love that
inspires Isabelle to snatch Vincent from the grip of death and love that causes
Vincent to risk everything to protect Isabelle. Anjo, their son, is the literal
incarnation of their love, the unborn nemesis of Chaos.
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