A Design For Life

- Jonathan Wright

There’s nothing straightfo­rward about Carroll’s magic realism

RELEASED 19 JANUARY 272 pages | Hardback/ebook

Author Jonathan Carroll

Publisher Melville House

Comedian Graham Patterson has a problem. After another dreary gig, he has to face facts: it’s not the audience, it’s him – he’s just not that funny. Patterson needs some time out and, on a whim, decides to drive across America. Here’s an opportunit­y to rethink his life and to do what he wants, like getting a tattoo on a stopover in North Carolina.

Except this isn’t just any ink. Turns out Patterson has selected a design that enables him to see three very different lives that, depending on the choice he makes, are open to him. Should he commit to a relationsh­ip and have a family? Should he adopt a new onstage persona? Should he make photograph­y his career?

In broad outline, Jonathan Carroll’s slipstream novel is, for all its fantastic flourishes, a straightfo­rward affair: a Sliding Doors book. And yet there’s nothing remotely straightfo­rward about Carroll’s magic realism.

For a start, this isn’t a book that’s just about Patterson, for all that the initial focus is on him. By around halfway through, you realise that Carroll is showing us a gallery of characters, each of whose experience­s is partly shaped by the way their lives interact with Patterson, as his life is by them.

Most of all, though, what lingers is the sense of compassion that comes through. Initially, Mr Breakfast seems to be about the tension between chasing success and finding domestic happiness. Except the choices the characters face are never binary, because life isn’t that simple. Whatever Patterson and others who get the same eldritch tattoo choose, they will see timelines that potentiall­y involve joys and hardships. And quite possibly dinosaurs and magic photograph­s too, because Carroll is, after all, a humorist.

A wise, warm and witty meditation on life and love that lingers long in the imaginatio­n.

Jonathan Carroll’s half-brother is minimalism pioneer Steve Reich, one of the world’s most important composers.

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