I am sure you will have all heard of and popped by and seen all the posts surrounding ‘Virago Reading Week’ which the lovely Rachel of Book Snob and Carolyn of A Few Of My Favourite Things have organised. Initially I wanted to participate, then didn’t think that I could as I have lots of health stuff going on, then I thought hang on I can combine the two and choose a Virago classic I have been meaning to read while I have lots of time in waiting rooms and the like. ‘The Passion of New Eve’ by Angela Carter was the book I plumped for and I can’t lie it was all because of the alluring cover my edition has (which was a reprint in 1982 – the year I was born). I have to say the cover certainly reflects just how trippy and unusual a book this is.
‘The Passion of New Eve’ starts as it means to go on with the rather bizarre opening sentence ‘The last night I spent in London, I took some girl or other to the movies and, through her mediation, I paid you a little tribute of spermatozoa, Tristessa.’ This is not going to be any ordinary tale and indeed it isn’t. We first meet Evelyn he has taken a girl to the cinema and then lets her perform fellatio on him whilst he watches his all time favourite actress on screen. Suddenly we skip to his arrival in New York a few weeks later, but this is not the New York we know of. It’s a dystopian version of The Big Apple where giant rats and secular groups based on gender, sexuality and race run the streets.
After falling for Leilah, a nightclub dancer, he soon gets her pregnant and sort of tires and the darkness of the city and runs away to the desert where he is captured by a female tribe living in the underworld city of Beulah and, before you think I am giving much too much away, this is where the biggest change of Evelyn’s life awaits him. I could go on and there is so much to talk about that follows and how I felt about it all but really you need to try, if you are brave enough, to read this book yourself for the experience as well as the story.
‘The Passion of New Eve’ is quite unlike anything I have ever read and certainly nothing like I was expecting from reading some of Angela Carter’s previous work. It’s a dark, uncomfortable and sometimes brutal and graphic look at sexuality and gender and what Carter feels defines them and how they can be used to manipulate and hurt rather than in any positive way – though there is a weird sense of hope in the book somewhere deep down which you get flickers of now and again.
This isn’t just some big feminism book where all the men are evil, Carter is far too clever to paint it as black and white and so in characters like ‘Mother’ (who rules Beulah) she creates one of the most heartless and monstrous villainesses I think I have come across in modern fiction. It’s a book that I found compelled me, baffled me, shock and appalled me all at once. Even when I really wanted to put the book down, occasionally just for a rest from some of the descriptions, I remained strangely mesmerised. Its not going to be one of my all time favourite books but its certainly not one that I will forget in a hurry. 7/10.
This is a book I had bought a few years ago in the lovely edition shown for a mere 25p! You can’t go wrong with that and if you see any more of these like in the image above (which Thomas made) just grab them, these oldies are as beautiful on the inside as out!
I’m really pleased that ‘Virago Reading Week’ reminded me of all the lovely battered green editions I have (I simply cant resist them in second hand shops even if I have never heard of the book or author) and lead me to this novel, so a big thanks to Rachel and Carolyn – and do pop and see their round up posts where you can find some reading gems everyone else has been reading.
I’m not sure that Angela Carter will become one of my all time favourite authors just yet, and I might need quite a bit of space to let my feelings subside on this book before I try her again, but she’s certainly an author I need to read more of. Any pointers where to head next?