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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

White Apples

Jonathan Carroll

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To purchase White Apples

Title: White Apples
Author: Jonathan Carroll
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002
Length: 304 pages
Availability: White Apples - US
White Apples - UK
White Apples - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : impressive invention but too much also over the top

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 3/5/2003 Michael Moorcock
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/11/2002 Taylor Antrim
San Francisco Chronicle B 29/9/2002 Michael Berry
The Washington Post . 3/11/2002 Jim Krusoe

  Review Consensus:

  Impressed, at least in part, but most also had some reservations

  From the Reviews:
  • "Always a very subtle writer, Carroll quietly presents resolutions and revelations you could miss if you blink. I was impressed by the sureness of this particular structure; he uses no familiar genre tricks to maintain suspense, yet still communicates nail-biting concern for the wellbeing of his central characters and a terrible fear for the fate of the universe." - Michael Moorcock, The Guardian

  • "It's unfortunate, then, that so many of the novel's ideas are as grandiose as they are abstract.. (...) Even wild surrealists can fall victim to cliché." - Taylor Antrim, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Carroll's books rarely sound plausible in summation, but they possess a strange kind of persuasiveness in the reading, thanks to his quirky world view and knack for offbeat characterization. In his new book, Carroll constructs an elegant system of metaphysics to explain the meaning of life. But Isabelle and Vincent are often so infuriating in their individual quirks and neuroses that the insistence on their romance's profundity sometimes rings false." - Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "In other words, what we have here is a novel that combines As I Lay Dying, The Omen and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and if this sounds awful, it's not. Actually it's pretty entertaining, largely because of Carroll's amazing ability to alternate between flimflam and truly wondrous effects. Part of the time he's really, really smart, and then at others so cute that this reader just wanted to hurl his copy of White Apples across the room." - Jim Krusoe, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       White Apples begins with a pretty outlandish premise: Vincent Ettrich has risen from the dead. The explanation of how this happened is ultimately not satisfactory, but one has to hand it to Carroll: he does introduce Ettrich and his unusual plight in an intriguing fashion.
       Like many of Carroll's novels this one begins with what seem like fairly mundane events but it doesn't take too long before it's revealed that the world is all topsy-turvy. Unfortunately, as in many of Carroll's novels, just a bit of off-kilter oddity isn't nearly enough for the author: once again the fate of the entire universe rests in a few characters hands.
       There's Vincent Ettrich, a decent guy with a weakness for the ladies who works in advertising. He was married and had two kids, but he gave all that up for the love of his life, Isabelle Neukor -- except that didn't work out. Then he died -- but Isablle turns out to have become pregnant by him and she wants and needs him back. As does their still unborn child, Anjo, who -- for a while, at least -- is able to communicate with his mother. Then there's also the new woman in Ettrich's (second) life, a guardian angel of sorts who also falls for him, Coco Hallis.
       It's a complicated scenario: for one, almost no one realises that Ettrich was dead (the powers that be having rearranged the collective memory to gloss over that inconvenient fact), and Ettrich himself isn't too sure of past and present. And there are forces out there trying to thwart Ettrich and Isabelle's undertaking (it is apparently necessary for them to give Anjo the proper upbringing in order to allow him be the significant force in the universe he is supposed to become).
       The obstacles come fast and furious, including parts of Ettrich's memory being wiped clean, the harnessing of unexpected powers, and someone relatively close to Ettrich turning out to be an agent from the other side. Thrown in as well, among much else, there's an oversized talking rat, Anjo speaking through others, and a good deal of literally re-visiting the past.
       What Carroll does most effectively is ground even the most outlandish in the everyday: a drive across five years (in the space of a few kilometres) or a floating, exploding mosaic explained in a café-setting are wonderfully done scenes. Conflicts between the good and the bad are also done well, including a horrific scene in a zoo.
       Carroll presents a concept of the universe here (nicely presented and described, if not entirely convincing), and it is being threatened by the forces of chaos. The book boils down to a good-versus-evil (and order-versus-chaos) battle, where Ettrich, Isabelle, and especially Anjo are the vital players (or pieces in the puzzle). Quite a few of the characters having some good tricks up their sleeves, and there's some clever undercutting of each other along the way. But it's also here that Carroll goes too far overboard: too much is arbitrary or convenient, with powers and abilities seeming to be made up at the spur of the moment -- when the author thinks they would come in handy (or sound impressive). There's little consistency to the super-natural world that Carroll offers, and despite his impressive imaginings they are self-defeating in their implausibility (and they pull down much of the book with them).
       The connecting pieces of the novel are solid, including such things as Ettrich's everyday concerns as he puzzles through what is happening to him, or his relationships with women. There are some hackneyed conversations and sentiments here, but fewer than in most of Carroll's books. The loves aren't entirely convincing, but most of the lives presented here are. And despite his overly ambitious world-view there's also some decent philosophising here, especially in how Carroll forces his characters to confront their pasts and let go of the safety they afford.
       The book is quite a muddle, but it twists and turns unexpectedly (and, unfortunately, occasionally unbelievably) and there are a number of vividly imagined scenes that impress greatly. Death isn't confronted entirely convincingly, but there's enough to get one thinking here. Overall, it's a frustrating but still worthwhile read.

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White Apples:
  • Tor publicity page
Reviews: Jonathan Carroll: Other books by Jonathan Carroll under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Jonathan Carroll was born in 1949. He graduated from Rutgers University and the University of Virginia, and has lived most his life in Vienna, Austria, where he teaches at the American International School.

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