I’ve really enjoyed paperback-reader Angela Carter month, and am rather hoping she does another one. I’ve been a fan of Carter for a few years now and whilst I’ve read most of the easy stuff there are still a few short stories and novellas I could be better acquainted with, plenty of nonfiction that’s unread, and still ‘The Passion of New Eve’ to get through. After my Dr Hoffmann experience New Eve can stay on the shelf for a while, but I did want to read at least two Carter’s whilst there was plenty of encouraging discussion going on around her work so my Oxfam purchase of ‘Shadow Dance' was very timely.
I was far more impressed with ‘Shadow Dance’ than I expected to be - until now I’ve not been so taken with the early novels, but this book felt perfect. Tense and chilling, it’s a very convincing sort of gothic horror written and set in the 1960’s. Essentially beauty becomes the beast – a pretty girl is badly scarred in a knife attack and returns an, at first silent, but always avenging fury to exact her pound of flesh. Her counterpart is the puckish Honeybuzzard – most likely responsible for her injuries he’s a lord of misrule and chaos. Whatever harm they bring to each other though is as nothing to the harm they bring on others.
The thing about the sixties that I don’t often remember is that it’s a generation of twenty and thirty somethings formed by one war and looking hard at the possibility of another. The narrator (Morris) remembers his mother dying in an air raid whilst having sex with a stranger against the outside of his bedroom door. At least he assumes she died – she’s certainly gone, but no identifiable body is forthcoming. In a world where things like that happen nothing can be terribly certain so Morris develops a dependency on Honeybuzzard who seems to be always certain, and always determined to do precisely what he wants.
Honeybuzzard is the sort of fairy who would spoil the milk and put the hens off laying not so much out of personal spite as sheer perversity – as is Ghislaine (the girl he scars). Both are too damaged and to damaging to fit into any sort of society, so all the way through as the expectation for some sort of cataclysmic dénouement built I was getting closer to the edge of my seat, and it’s the end which really shows Carter’s quality. The climax is satisfyingly dramatic but at the same time its woven in with something far more earthy and real than I expected; it’s a combination which reinforces the sense of not knowing what’s real and what’s prevarication on the narrators part all the way through. I’m still unsure of how complicit Morris really is in Honeybuzzard’s actions – even how much blood he may have got on his own hands.
I don’t feel I’ve got anywhere near doing this book justice, but I really do recommend it, which brings me back to my beginning. I’m never sure about traditional reading groups – I’m clearly not enough of a joiner in to find the idea attractive, and time’s a bit short to read books that don’t entirely grab me. Angela Carter month has really appealed to me though – and I’m looking forward to Persephone reading week for much the same reasons – the chance to read discussions on books I know I might be interested in, a good push to get something off the shelf I’ve meant to read for ages, and plenty of feedback about the books I am reading, all without any particular pressure. Heaven for the slightly disorganised and sometimes despairing (desperate) reader.