Thursday, October 04, 2012

1970s - Love (1971)

Love by Angela Carter was a difficult book to read. For starters, it's title is misleading- the plot centres on three people: Annabel, an art student, her husband Lee and Lee's brother who also lives with them. All three are disconnected with reality in their own separate ways, and seemingly incapable of really knowing or interacting with each other, but none more so than Annabel. When the book opens she is overcome by terror when walking through the park by seeing the sun and the moon in the sky at the same time. The book then moves around in time to look at the doomed relationship (love?) between Annabel and Lee. The first thing that really struck me about the book was the style it's written in. It's full of long run on sentences that don't seem to end the way you'd expect- with the end twisting away from the beginning. Take, for example, this sentence:
All was as it should be in the kitchen and she gave him a smile of such unexpected sweetness that he turned, put his arms around her and hid his face in her hair, for he was having an affair with another woman, as was only to be expected.

The having an affair is a twist, but 'as was only to be expected' throws in a certain feeling of oddness. The copy that I read has a quote on the cover: "Angela Carter writes like a dream... sometimes a nightmare" and I really can't think of a better description. She writes to disorient- the story shifts in time, from place to place, through perspectives and sometimes seemingly from reality to fantasy. Sometimes the narrator is unobtrusive and sometimes they forebode. The effect is most pronounced at the start when the focus is most closely on Annabel, when it shifts to Lee it all seems clearer. Anyway it is an effective way to relate a story about madness. It's also an effective way of building atmosphere- this is such a Gothic story. I mean, the main characters names reference Edgar Allan Poe, and on the first page we read, of Annabel,:
...Annabel rarely ventured there because serenity bored her and the Mediterranean aspect of this part of the park held no excitements for her. She preferred the Gothic north, where an ivy-covered tower with leaded ogive windows skulked among the trees.
There's a lot of interest in objects, in things and in surfaces- with long descriptions of the room that Annabel and Lee live in and all the stuff that fills it. After all, the characters often interact seemingly at a surface level, and that is the way Annabel understands the world. Objects are not just objects, they are symbolic and full of meaning, but not necessarily a meaning anyone can understand. And there are allusions to myth and folklore. I liked this: was he to know, since he was so young, that he would become a Spartan boy and she the fox under his jacket, eating his heart out. The Japanese peasantry had an awed respect for foxes, who, they believed, could enter a person's body either through the breast or else the space between the flesh of a finger and any one fingernail. When the fox was inside, it would harangue its host until he lost his reason but Lee felt no need to beware of her.
That last sentence is a good example of the twisting sentences, actually. I don't think I've ever quoted a book so much in a blog post, but really it seems the best way to get across the sense of this one. It's all in the way that it's written, the way that it bends your perceptions.

The shifting nature of the story is not the only reason it is a difficult book, though. It's difficult because of the way Lee treats Annabel. He is presented sympathetically for the most part, more or less, which makes it more uncomfortable. It's not easy because clearly he is in a difficult position, but I really didn't know what to make of the way the characters were treated. A couple of times I had to double check that the story was written by a woman. It seems silly but there were some moments that were brutal. I was comforted to read the afterword, where Angela Carter describes the book as an "almost sinister feat of male impersonation." It's a dark book, Gothic and often disturbing, which doesn't always treat women well. I wish I knew to what end, but I don't know quite what to make of it. All the same, I was impressed by the writing, the way that no two Angela Carter books I've read feel quite the same- though they have a common sense of lushness verging sometimes on grotesqueness. In the end, I would be really interested in hearing what other people thought of this!


  1. Anonymous9/10/12 22:11

    "almost sinister feat of male impersonation" ... This doesn't speak well of the authoress' attitude. Were she a man no doubt (s)he would be accused of misogyny. (A word that has been overused in politics the last few weeks.) Can we call her misandryist? Clearly the right word is not misanthropic, which is a common gender word. But maybe that's the truth - that she really does dislike all alike. Or is she just a cynic who does it all for effect and good sales?

    1. I don't agree. On the one hand, she is not calling men 'sinister'in that comment, and on the other it is hard to read that book and not think of it as 'sinister'. And to say that she is a cynic who "does it all for good sales" seems a long bow to draw, not to mention unwarranted criticism.