Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Angela Carter, Shadow Dance (1966)

Well, it's Carter's first novel, of which she was apparently embarrassed in retrospect. But having determined that I'm going to read her entire corpus, I think it's best to start at the beginning. There's no sense reading Nights at the Circus and Wise Children--her last two novels, and widely regarded as her best--and then having to circle around to less impressive stuff.

Um...right. So there's this young woman named Ghislaine, who was beautiful and promiscuous, but now she has this huge, disfiguring scar on her face, allegedly inflicted by anonymous teenage goons, but actually by a satanic figure known only as "Honeybuzzard." Our protagonist is a guy named Morris, who had a brief adulterous affair with Ghislaine, and who is Honeybuzzard's semi-friend and business partner. They ransack abandoned Victorian houses for kitschy artifacts to sell to tourists. Morris is very shaken up about Ghislaine, his marriage is tottery and loveless, and he's ambivalent about Honeybuzzard. And...that pretty much describes the novel.

I don't think anyone should be embarrassed about writing a first novel like this at the ripe old age of twenty-four, and even if it's a bit overwritten in places, you can still see Carter's nascent genius. That said, qua novel, it's not really very...good. It's just not clear what we're supposed to care about/focus on, and why. Honeybuzzard is meant to be the central figure (the book was retitled Honeybuzzard for its first US publication), but he's wholly a cipher, and he never makes much impact. Ditto for Ghislaine. Maybe possibly HB's relationship with Morris is supposed to be the main thing? The back cover of the edition I read calls it "a disturbing and delicious tale of shattered beauty and male camaraderie," but neither of these themes are treated except in the most sketchy way. And Morris himself--the viewpoint character, with occasional jarring exceptions--is very unlikeable/uninteresting. HB's current lover, Emily, provides a certain amount of welcome live-wire instability to the narrative, but there's just very little there there. No less a figure than Anthony Burgess had high praise for it, so maybe I'm just too dumb, but I hope--and fully trust--that Carter's later novels will be a lot better.


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