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Sleeping in Flame (1988)

by Jonathan Carroll

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Answered Prayers Sextet (2)

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7332030,750 (4)22
Walker Easterling is a retired actor turned successful screenwriter living in the Vienna of strong coffee, fascinating friends, and mysterious cafes. When he falls in love with Maris York, a beautiful artist who creates cities, his life becomes alive in fantastic and unsettling ways. As Walker's love for Maris grows, his life gets more and more bizarre-he discovers he can see things happening just before they happen, and at the same time feels an incredibly strong tug from his past-so a friend steers him to Venasque, an odd little man reputed to be a powerful shaman. Venasque helps Walker discover and unravel his many interconnected past lives, and it is soon clear that an unresolved conflict from these past lives has resurfaced, and now threatens to undo Walker and Maris's love. At once lyrical, frightening, funny, and sexy,Sleeping in Flame is a spellbinding tale where reality and fantasy merge in astonishing convolutions of magic and suspense. It confirms that Jonathan Carroll is one of the very few novelists who-by constantly surprising us-give us an entirely new perspective on our world. It is no wonder that he is generally considered to be the most original and provocative novelist of his generation.… (more)
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» See also 22 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
The fourth of Carroll's novels and the fourth I've read, but not the best. As with all of them it suffers from a rushed off-the-wall ending, probably more than most, but that's not my main problem with it. I found the story very uneven with lots of 'kitchen sink' things thrown in that didn't really gell with the story.

The protagonist, as in most of those I've read, is a man telling the story in first person. Walker is a small time film actor who has moved into screen writing with the help of his director friend, Nicholas. Nicholas introduces him to Maris, with whom Walker instantly falls in love, and she falls for him.

Certain things are set up in the book, for example, an expectation that Maris' abusive and violent boyfriend will cause big problems, but in fact he is dealt with and disappears early on. Similarly, certain key characters are set up to appear important but fizzle out by being killed off before their plotlines deliver. There are talking animals as in other Carroll novels, but they don't contribute much to the story.

The main story concerns Walker's real father, as he is adopted, and deals with the nature of reincarnation, but there are elements that don't make sense, for example if his father is only giving him one more chance to be the perfect son, why does he give him away as a baby instead of bringing him up, and why doesn't he stop him growing up to prevent him developing the interest in women that is the father's big objection?As in The Land of Laughs, characters can be brought to life by people who write - or in this case, tell oral stories - but with no real explanation of why this works for those particular people.

One feature of this novel not encountered before is that a minor character from the previous novel appears, and the protagonist of the same novel (Bones of the Moon) is referenced a couple of times, but there is no other obvious connection between the two, so it seems a bit pointless.

I was struck particularly in this novel, perhaps because the action in the real world moves between countries so much, that there is no real evocation/atmosphere of any of the places involved - somehow, none of the reality of life in Vienna or New York or California is brought to life. Thinking about it, this was a problem in the previous novel, Bones of the Moon, which featured Greece, Italy and New York as settings. They seem fairly nondescript backdrops despite the frequent mentions of street names and all the occasions when people sit in restaurants and coffee shops. I found it quite a struggle to finish this book, and I'm afraid to say was getting bored before things started happening in the last third or so. I have four other novels by Carroll and I'm not sure on this showing whether I won't just pass them on to the charity shop. I wouldn't normally give a book only 2 stars but there were just too many issues with this one for me. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
This one hits the right spot for me! I want to read more of Carroll's work. ( )
  Christine_Taylor | Jan 14, 2023 |
As I said in my review of [b:The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry|13227454|The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry|Rachel Joyce|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1335816092s/13227454.jpg|18156927] now and again we read the perfect book at the perfect time in our lives. [b:Sleeping in Flame|42145|Sleeping in Flame|Jonathan Carroll|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312065192s/42145.jpg|2789348] was a similar serendipitous choice, given to me by my boyfriend as an early present.

[a:Jonathan Carroll|23704|Jonathan Carroll|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1222900262p2/23704.jpg] more than any other author lures me into the worlds he creates. The mixture of wonder and cynicism in his work draws me deeper and deeper into the magical realism of Vienna and Prague, Rondua and half-recalled dreams. The more I visit the mind of the author the more I get inspired to continue my own writing.

[b:Sleeping in Flame|42145|Sleeping in Flame|Jonathan Carroll|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312065192s/42145.jpg|2789348] touched me in a rather vital way, and reminded me of all the things I adore about [a:Jonathan Carroll|23704|Jonathan Carroll|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1222900262p2/23704.jpg] in the first place. His unusual use of language and his strange reality mixed and lodged within my brain until there was just one thing I wanted to say.

I know exactly who it is that I want to steal horses with. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
A modern fairy tale mixed with the metaphysical set firmly in the real world of the 1980s.

"Do you read mystery novels? Yes? It's the same with them. A fool can read ten pages and then turn to the end to see if the butler did it. But why ruin the whole process? The fun is trying to figure out the mystery yourself. If you get it right at the end then you really feel good and not a cheat."

Don't go in expecting The Land of Laughs. Lines between reality and fantasy are blurred in both stories, but Sleeping in Flame offers neither the whimsy nor the suspense found in The Land of Laughs.

Be prepared for some dated references and misogyny. Women are first introduced by their external appearance or behavior; men by their careers, accomplishments and social standing. For example, near the very end of the book, Walker is on a train in the first-class compartment by himself when "...a woman walked in. When I saw her I thought of a line my college roommate had once said when were gassing about women. 'Sometimes you see one on the street who's so beautiful you want to walk up to her, put your hand over her mouth, and just whisper 'Don't talk. Come with me.' You take her immediately to bed, never letting her say a word. Because no matter what she says, it's going to spoil that first beauty you saw in her. You know what I mean? Silent, she's perfect.' The woman across from me was that kind of perfect."

I'm still confused as to what was so special about Maris York, the woman Walker falls in love with at first sight. Other than being a former supermodel turned artist with the ability to read tarot cards, who is first introduced needing rescued from an abusive ex-lover, she seems like a regular woman to me. Yet every man she meets falls in love with her. Is it because, for her art, she builds LEGO cities then sells them for outrageous amounts of money?

Besides the way women are portrayed, there's an exchange between Walker and Elisabeth Benedikt about her son that seemed inaccurate to me. She asks Walker if he knows what being autistic is. He replies, "Schizophrenic?" To which Elisabeth responds, "More or less. Lillis lives in his own head." Of course, I'm no expert on either, but I have a relative with schizophrenia and he's very different from the autistic children and adults I've encountered.

Now let's get to the good stuff: the reason I enjoyed Sleeping in Flame...

"The only thing we can really know is what we're experiencing, or what we've already lived. Then we've got to study it like crazy till we understand."

It's revealed early on that Walker is an orphan. He was raised by the wonderful Easterling family, but he could never get over the fact that he was found as an infant in a dumpster by a homeless man. Soon after meeting Maris, Walker starts having strange experiences like seeing an accident before it happens and the appearance of a legendary sea creature. He also has vivid dreams in which everything he sees and does appears to have happened before. In an attempt to make sense of all the weirdness - magic, according to Maris - Walker goes to a shaman who wants to teach him how to fly and, slowly, Walker begins to unravel the mystery of his life.

Recommended to those seeking modern fairy-tale retellings who don't mind an ambiguous ending. For anyone who ever wondered what would've happened to the baby if the queen hadn't correctly named Rumpelstiltskin.

4 stars (but I don't see myself re-reading it in the next decade)

"They think you live and die and come back maybe ten or fifty or a hundred years from now. That's wrong. You do live and die and come back, but not always in the future. Know why? Because after a certain date, there isn't a future. There's an end to our time here.

The big reveal:

Walker is actually the thirty-first incarnation of Walter, the baby of the queen who guessed the name of Rumpelstiltskin. The twist is, she never did guess the little man's true name. He took the baby and fled the story realm and somehow crossed over to the real world. He raised Walter as his son and loved him with everything he was. But Walter grew up and fell in love with a woman. His father couldn't take that -- he wanted Walter to love him first and above all others. So he killed Walter and brought him back to life in an effort to let Walter fix his mistake (of betraying his father by growing up and loving a human).

But every time, Walter made the same mistake. He was killed and brought back thirty times. It's this life, the thirty-first, that Walter remembers all the others and his magic, and this time he refuses to let his beloved be harmed by his father. Once he's remembered his father's true name, which is the key to using magic (he says the name then the magic comes), he reincarnates the Wild sisters, Dortchen and Lisette, the original sources for the Grimms' version of the little man's tale. Turns out the Wild sisters made it up, basing it on a local human man. Breath was the true name of Rumpelstiltskin. Since they imagined him, created him, by making up a new ending they are able to erase him from existence.
( )
  flying_monkeys | Dec 29, 2016 |
starts off slow, but the characters are engrossing. plus, it has that rare thing - a supremely satisfying ending. ( )
  Darth-Heather | May 31, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carroll, Jonathanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McKean, DaveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Odom, MelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Walker Easterling is a retired actor turned successful screenwriter living in the Vienna of strong coffee, fascinating friends, and mysterious cafes. When he falls in love with Maris York, a beautiful artist who creates cities, his life becomes alive in fantastic and unsettling ways. As Walker's love for Maris grows, his life gets more and more bizarre-he discovers he can see things happening just before they happen, and at the same time feels an incredibly strong tug from his past-so a friend steers him to Venasque, an odd little man reputed to be a powerful shaman. Venasque helps Walker discover and unravel his many interconnected past lives, and it is soon clear that an unresolved conflict from these past lives has resurfaced, and now threatens to undo Walker and Maris's love. At once lyrical, frightening, funny, and sexy,Sleeping in Flame is a spellbinding tale where reality and fantasy merge in astonishing convolutions of magic and suspense. It confirms that Jonathan Carroll is one of the very few novelists who-by constantly surprising us-give us an entirely new perspective on our world. It is no wonder that he is generally considered to be the most original and provocative novelist of his generation.

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