Ooh, book within a book. The Land Of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll is a novel about a novelist. Or at least a novel about the writing of a biography of a fictional children’s author Marshall France. It is a slight pity that the version I read was part of the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, because the Fantasy aspects are understated until the rather melodramatic ending (knee jerk reaction to the end is fun but rushed, but I’m not so sure now). It is a book about the power of fiction, about the mystery of authors and especially the lingering effects of children’s literature. ‘The Land Of Laughs’ is also the name of one of the fictional books, which we have described but never see any passages of.

This is wise I think, as keen as I was to see an insight into this author that our narrator and his girlfriend are so besotted by. France’s work is compared to Tolkein, Lewis Carroll and Baum’s Oz (though tellingly not to CS Lewis I thought) as whimsical yet dark, and to our lead characters it was a defining moment of their unhappy youths when they latched upon this work. The book is at its best when it is coming to terms with its dysfunctional leads, and spends an awful lot of its 230 pages just trying to get them together romantically. When they then visit the daughter and home town of the author we are therefore firmly on their side, despite their prickliness, quirks and obsession with childhood literature.

It strikes me that when Carroll wrote the book (1980) that the idea of adults reading and revering children’s literature was not yet in vogue. It has quite a different spin now, with Harry Potter, Phillip Pullman and the reframing of Tolkein et al. Its odd that a book written only 25 years ago seems so dated, not just with its Bionic Woman references but in the leads embarrassment at writing a biography of a children’s author. Short, sweet and devourable in a couple of sittings, it leaves you slightly disconcerted and feeling as if you are missing something. Probably the fictional Land Of Laughs, a book title which is pretty inappropriate for the actual book it refers to, but too damn good to be left within the pages of the novel.