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Publisher's Summary

Award-winning author, narrator, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman personally selected this book, and, using the tools of the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), cast the narrator and produced this work for his audiobook label, Neil Gaiman Presents.

A few words from Neil on The Land of Laughs: "I chose The Land of Laughs for Neil Gaiman Presents because I love Jonathan Carroll’s books and want to bring them to as wide an audience as possible. I suspected the character of Thomas Abbey would be both a challenge and an opportunity for the right narrator. Edoardo Ballerini conveys a certain wistfulness and vulnerability underneath Abbey’s grumpiness."

Thomas Abbey is a man stuck in a rut. An English teacher in a small Connecticut prep school, Abbey is in a crisis. His career is unfulfilling, he has no social or love life to speak of, and he cannot break out of the shadow of his famous father, the actor Stephen Abbey. To kick-start his life, he takes a sabbatical to work on a biography of his favorite writer, Marshall France. France's books were the only thing that kept Abbey sane during his childhood, and though he was renowned for his lyrical and imaginative children's books, nearly nothing was known about the writer's life.

Although Abbey has been warned that France's daughter, Anna, has blocked all previous attempts at her father's biography, he and Saxony Garder - an intense woman also obsessed with France's life - head to Galen, Missouri, with high hopes of breaking down Anna's resistance. They are surprised to find Anna the soul of small-town hospitality and quite excited about Abbey's proposal - even eager to get the project finished as soon as possible.

Even stranger than Anna's behavior is the town of Galen itself. On the surface, all is as a small Midwestern town should be. But the people of the town seem to know what their future holds - freak accidents and all - down to the hour and are as eager for Abbey to finish the biography as Anna is.

To hear more from Neil Gaiman on The Land of Laughs, click here, or listen to the introduction at the beginning of the book itself.

Learn more about Neil Gaiman Presents and Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX).

©1980 Jonathan Carroll (P)2011 Richard Parks

Critic Reviews

"Edoardo Ballerini perfectly captures the hesitant and faltering Thomas Abbey, a schoolteacher who wants to write the biography of his favorite children’s author, the mysterious Marshall France. Thomas’s story starts out realistically enough, but when he and his girlfriend take a research trip to France’s hometown in Missouri, things begin to veer into the bizarre. Ballerini makes the listener sympathize with Thomas, even as he begins an affair with France’s daughter, Anna, a woman obsessed with her dead father. Ballerini’s command of Thomas’s character and his spot-on voices for the secondary characters ground the story as it becomes more fantastical and the listener learns that either things aren’t what they seem or Thomas is not entirely sane. An unsettling examination of obsession." ( AudioFile)

What members say

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Daryl
  • United States
  • 11-01-12

It's Not You - It's Me

Was The Land of Laughs worth the listening time?

I got half way through this book and was so. intrigued. Here we had this utterly delectable little novel with a great premise, wonderful characters, and an completely unique perspective, and by the time I got right smack dab in the middle of it I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out what diabolical mystery it could all be building up to. And then I found out and all I could think was "oh, is that all? well I can tell where this is headed".

And the book rolled on. And it ended just like I thought it would (I really loved the closing lines though) which afforded me the opportunity to nod sagely to myself while listening to my ipod between classes and ruminate on the inadvisability of trying to predict plot twists. For a long time after I sat and mulled over why I thought it was that I didn't enjoy the latter half of this book as much as the former. I think its because I've just read, if at all possible, too much fantasy. If you know your tropes you can spot this one from a mile away.

But I still liked everything else about it. And obviously I am in the minority in my opinion about not being so hot on it. I don't mean to seem self congratulatory for having figured it out, that's not my intention. I was just hoping for something different. That being said I do not consider this to have been a waste of a credit - I still enjoyed the story, I'm still utterly fascinated by the characters and Ballerini did a fantastic job in bringing it all to life. Quibbles aside, I still recommend it.

In the end I think this book did what it was supposed to do - it introduced me to an author I never would have heard about otherwise, and it made me want to listen to his other works (I've added everything else he offers through Neil Gaiman Presents to my wish list). While this might not have been a strong entry into his cannon for me personally, I can tell he's someone whose work will appeal to me and I look foreword to listening to more first chance I get.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • WILLIAM
  • CROWN POINT, IN, United States
  • 06-05-12

Pretty Rockin'

I got this because I was looking for horror. Turns out it's really more interested in exploring what happens when you live for your art rather than living for actual life.

Fans of metaphor and hyperbole will love this book. See, the way Jonathan Carroll rolls is to describe things using biting quips that echo what pops into our heads day-to-day -- for example, your lover doesn't "cling so tightly to you that you have to peel yourself away in the morning"; instead, she "scotch-tapes herself to you".

As for the narrator, Ballerini does a great job with the male leads but it gets hard to tell the voices of the main female leads apart.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Didn't quite pull together

This is the third Neil Gaiman-recommended book I've listened to recently (Light and Pavane are the others) -- and it will probably be the last. I haven't really found any of them inspiring in the audiobook format. This one has a pretty good premise, but the story seems to get sidetracked with unnecessary stuff, and the ending was anticlimactic.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Stunning mix of author and narrator

The stunning narration of Edoardo Ballerini is more than a reading: it is an acting out. He becomes the voice of Thomas Abbey, a rather hapless man who counters the effect on his life of being the son of a famous person with a powerful obsession: he hopes to write the biography of an author whose books have been a hugely important part of his life.

Carroll's words -- at times almost luminous with associations and details -- paint picture after picture, lingering on images that cleverly and gradually contribute to evocative images of place, people and the community of Galen, Missouri. The reader responds to the characters because they have come alive.

The reader also becomes ensnared in a web of ingeniously presented improbabilities, and the mind tries to counter them with normalities -- hoping Abbey will discover the normal despite participating in dangerous unknowns.

This book touches on aspects of human experience: of vulnerability, trust, love, caring, mind control.
It also explores how we perceive our world -- what hopes and values we bring to our reactions and decisions.

Rich pickings indeed. There's even the ever tantalising concept of predestination somewhere in there!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I don't get it

What disappointed you about The Land of Laughs?

This is just not a very engaging story line. I don't get why Neil Gaiman, who i really like, is so enamored with this story. It just isn't that interesting. Got about halfway through and stopped listening to it as it started to become a chore.

What could Jonathan Carroll have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

The story is simply not that interesting.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Edoardo Ballerini?

yes, he was good.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

It's not the worst book I've ever listened to, but it just didn't keep me interested.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Eoin
  • Kilcullen, Ireland
  • 01-03-12

Better off as a short-story?

This is a tale with great ideas, and reasonably well-written, but lacks pace. Most of the characters are not particularly likeable, and the performance is average; little more. I feel that it would have been better off as a short story.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Written with intelligence and humor

An usual book. It's a page turner and yet you really don't know where the plot is taking you. The characters are original and richly developed. Both enjoyable and intelligent.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Thank you Neil Gaiman

I decided to buy this title because it was selected by Neil Gaiman, and I am so glad that I did. I love the fact that even though the main character is flawed, he is still likeable, and draws the reader deeper into the story. I love the twists that the plot takes, many totally unexpected. Thank you again, Neil Gaiman, for introducing me to this author.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Odd. A writer's grandiose fable.

This book begins well enough. It is the story of a teacher and writer named Thomas Abbey and his girlfriend Saxony. Tom takes a sabbatical year in which he decides to write a biography of his favorite author, a man named Marshall France. For the first half or so, the book is a well-written story, narrated by the always wonderful Edoardo Ballerini, which makes it a delightful experience just for that. However...(isn't there always a however?)... our heroes drive to the town of Galen, Missouri, and this is where the story escalates into a fable of delusional proportions. If you knew that this was going to be some variety of science fictionish work, that would be one thing. But, not having known that, the book becomes pretty preposterous. I can't help revealing the spoiler here, as it takes up almost half the book, and is, I suppose, the grand idea of Mr. Carroll's. The conceit here is that Marshall France has written a magnum opus in which he has created the entire town: all the people who live in it, precisely what they do, when they die, etc. He (France) also has the superpowers available to himself that he can make people die at his whim, or turn into dogs, etc. At first Tom and Saxony do not believe the tale, but they are fiercely sold on it by Anna, the author's daughter. Soon Tom is sleeping with Anna as well as Saxony. Since science fiction requires us to suspend our usual assumptions about life, the only way to enjoy this experience, I think, is to just not try to think too carefully about the entire conceit, as it will fall down like a house of cards on the briefest examination. France becomes a version of God. He apparently has written so voluminously into the past and the future of Galen that ordinary mortals would have taken lifetimes to do this alone, not to speak of writing work that will be marketed and sold to the public. (France's writing about Galen is a Big Secret.) Some of it has a Wizard of Oz quality: children might be mystified, but the outfits are made of cardboard, and pay no attention to that man...
I love Edoardo Ballerini as I love no other narrator. He does the absolute maximum with this material that he can. However, nothing can protect Tom from being the wimpy, passive academic that he is. He bounces from Saxony to Anna, begging each of them to make the decisions in his life that he is too paralyzed by OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) to make. By the end, you really are considering the possibility that it all really WAS a dream, a thing which worked in literature about 100 years ago.
I would only cautiously recommend this book, primarily for fellow lovers of Ballerini. His skills are so marvelous that they can elevate a lot of writing way above where it actually "deserves" to be. What a guy.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Diane
  • Louisville, KY, United States
  • 04-11-13

Fictional Reality

The best books, both fiction and non-fiction, create a world in the mind of the reader that is as real as the world in which the reader actually lives. If that is the case for the reader, it can only be more so for the author who has become totally immersed in the world he/she is creating.

Neil Gaiman is a connoisseur of literature that skirts along the edge separating the world of the mind and the world around us. While I haven't been thrilled with every NGP selection, this one does not disappoint, as it follows the career of a young aspiring writer, Tom Abbey, who wants to write a biography of the author whose books created an imaginary world into which Abbey retreated as a child. That author's adopted home town turns out to be a very strange place, indeed, a place existing on the border between reality and fiction. A story that is both fun and thought-provoking.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul Snook
  • 05-10-16

Laugh? No. Be disturbed? Yes.

I had not read or even heard of Jonathan Carroll before I came across this suggestion from the estimable Mr Gaiman. And I am very glad that I did because this book is so compelling, so enthralling, and at the same time quite, quite disturbing, that one is hooked from the very start.

It seems a trait with Carroll's work that the story itself, the real meat as it were, never really gets going until about two-thirds of the way through. The last third is where the action is at yet the rest is about the fleshing out of the characters, the setting of the tone, the background, everything that makes a masterpiece what it is. And despite all this apparent extraneous padding you still want to hear it. You want to know what makes the characters tick, their faults, their foibles, because I have yet to come across anyone who better portrays real people, complete with hang-ups and doubts, as does Jonathan Carroll.

The title of this book is the title of a fictional book by an author much admired by the main protagonists. That so much detail of this fictional book is included makes one wish that it was for real, so fantastical are the characters and clues to the mythical text.
The end, when one eventually gets there, is fairly predictable. You can sense how things are going to pan out and yet it is still a surprise when the inevitable happens.

Edoardo Ballerini narrated this story impeccably and, as a result, will have me hunting down more of his work.

Buy, listen and be beguiled.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Laurence
  • 09-27-16

A brilliant listen from a fantastic writer

Any additional comments?

This debut novel by Jonathan Carroll deserves to be discovered by many more listeners. If you love a story that slowly slides from reality into fantasy and horror then this is the audio for you. Introduced and recommended by Neil Gaiman it also had a host of fantastic reviews at the time of its release, including Ruth Rendell.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Graeme from Preston
  • 12-17-17

Compulsive listening

It was very hard to stop listening to this story which starts as a drama then weird questions arise before tingling fear right at the end. Superb writing.