Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book 11 – Shadow Dance

By Angela Carter

Early in high school, I read a fair bit of high fantasy books. Angela Carter, with her Gothic and surrealistic tendencies, helped me to transition from fantasy into more, well, serious literature.

As her early novels were hard to find, I began by reading her later, more ground-breaking work from the mid-70's to the mid-80's: The Bloody Chamber, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, and Nights at the Circus.

Shadow Dance was Carter’s first novel, and has been out of print some time after it appeared in 1966. Apparently Carter was not particularly proud of it. Since her death in 1992, Virago Press had since re-published her early work, which I’m now starting to come across in used bookstores (though I couldn't find the cover of my book to display here). I think these would have been more appropriate for a younger reader, as they didn’t have as much of the intellectualism of her later work.

Similar to her second novel, The Magic Toyshop, Shadow Dance is a piece of Sixties Gothic set in a dismal working class town full of eccentrics and deadbeats. It starts off with a beautiful young woman named Ghislain, who has just been released from hospital and shows up at a bar looking for Honeybuzzard, the man who permanently and savagely mutilated her face. So far so interesting. But the story proceeds to follow the life of lowly antique dealer, Morris. He may look like an El Greco Christ, but he’s trapped in a loveless marriage, racked with guilt because he's partly responsible for Ghislain's attack, yet he still pathetically pines for his missing friend, none other than the mysterious Honeybuzzard. When Honeybuzzard returns to town with a new girl (and cat) in tow, things heat up a little more and get a little more twisted, but not by much. The story is ultimately about Morris and his codependent relationship with his unpredictable, amoral friend, and how he eventually frees himself from all his emotional baggage.

Even though, plot-wise, Shadow Dance was a little disappointing, I still enjoyed reading it. As with many of Carter’s books, reading her stories is like an experience. She once said, "a good writer can make you believe time stands still” and her books always have a kind of timeless way about them. Another critic also wrote: “Few writers have as successfully told stories within stories, created dense, baroque prose, and still, in the end, delivered on an emotional level.”

As a teenager, I always felt a little more grownup reading Carter’s books but there were times where I felt I wasn’t quite mature yet to fully appreciate her work. Now that I’m much older, I’d like to revisit some of her later novels and stories again.

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