Book Review: The Passion of New Eve

First published in 1977, The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter is an interesting book (albeit an odd book).

The book is set in dystopian America (isn’t everything?), where a civil war has broken out between groups of people who differ in either gender, race, or politics. The main character, Evelyn, travels to New York City and begins a meaningless sexual relationship with a woman named Leilah. Evelyn abandons Leilah and escapes into the desert, where he is kidnapped by The Mother, a cult leader who wants to surgically transform everyone into women. Evelyn then becomes Eve as he is forcibly changed into a woman. The book follows Evelyn / Eve  as they struggle to understand their new assigned gender identity.

Essentially, a new woman is formed from man and called Eve. As tends to be the case with Carter, this is a not-so-subtle exploration of sexuality, gender roles and feminism.

The Passion of New Eve is clearly and deliberately meant to spark debates about sex and gender. For example, in the case of Evelyn / Eve, the book implies that one is not necessarily born a woman but becomes a woman by learning about femininity through culture and society. The book also suggests femininity is an illusion, which can be performed with the right appearance and the right body parts.

I liked the morbid and grotesque scenes, such as when Evelyn is kidnapped on two separate occasions by two separate cults. The cults’ behaviours and attitudes were horrible and frightening and I think authors’ uses of cults are an interesting part of the Dystopian tradition. Personally, I think her ability to write creepy and horrible things is where Carter excels.

Whilst I liked these Dystopian parts, there were other bits of the book I didn’t understand in the slightest.

It gets weird towards the end – there’s talk of time and consciousness and the self and identity and it’s all just a bit confusing. A snippet from the Wikipedia plot summary says:

‘Lilith tells Eve she must go and meet The Mother and pushes her into a cleft in the rocks that metamorphoses into the uterus of time. Eve progresses through the increasingly deep and warm subterranean rock pools to her rebirth.’

What?

Although The Passion of New Eve isn’t the weirdest book I’ve ever read, it’s not exactly completely normal either.

So far, every Angela Carter book I’ve ever read feels completely different to everything else she’s written. I loved her collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, (even if the feminist messages were still extremely obvious) because it was a fun mix of Gothic horror, fairy-tales, and subverted and perverted narratives.

In contrast, Wise Children was … okay. I don’t really remember it. I didn’t particularly like it or dislike it. The story was okay and the characters were a somewhat quirky bunch of flawed people, but it never made a distinctive impression.

In contrast yet again, The Passion of New Eve is definitely more weird, more Gothic, more Dystopian, and more memorable than Wise Children, but less enjoyable and less easy to understand than The Bloody Chamber.

I don’t really know what else to say.

– Judith

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Book Review: High Rise

High Rise is a novel by J. G. Ballard, which explores how modern landscapes can alter the human psyche. The book is about a high-rise apartment block, which was designed to be the most perfect living space. However, as the high-rise psychically degenerates, the tenants of the high-rise morally degenerate.

I decided to read High Rise after reading The Unlimited Dream Company for university. I wrote a blog post about The Unlimited Dream Company, which you can read here.  Comparatively, High Rise is so much better.

High Rise has a coherent narrative, a conventional narrative form, and clearly defined characters: all of which are lacking from The Unlimited Dream Company. I have no idea why The Unlimited Dream Company was selected for a module about Dystopian literature and High Rise wasn’t.

High Rise has an interesting concept, though I thought the fact the lower-class citizens lived on the bottom floors and the upper-class citizens lived on the top floors was a bit … simple.

The novel foregrounds themes of class and civilisation and questions the arbitrary nature of social status and civilised behaviour as, once disaster strikes, these social codes disintegrate entirely because the tenants of the high-rise revert back to primitive states of being.

I liked the way the apartments became like prisons, as tenants wanted to leave the increasingly horrible state of the apartment building and yet were either trapped by more “feral” tenants or couldn’t bring themselves to escape because of the money they’d invested in their apartment.

The story was interesting and entertaining, even though none of the characters were likeable – I think this was intentional – and some parts of the novel were a little difficult to follow.

After reading High Rise, my main reaction was simply relief that it wasn’t as horrible, bizarre, confusing, or incoherent as The Unlimited Dream Company.

Read High Rise if you’d like. Avoid The Unlimited Dream Company.

– Judith

Themes in: The Road

The Road is a novel by Cormac McCarthy, published in 2006. I wrote a film review of The Road a while ago after reading the book, which you can click here to read. This blog post will not be an inherent discussion of themes in The Road, but a discussion of genres instead.

Dystopian?

The Road is clearly a Dystopian novel. It is set in America, following a worldwide catastrophe which has wiped out all pre-existing forms of society. The environment has been destroyed. Finding food, water, and shelter is a constant hardship. There is both physical degeneration of the earth, and moral degeneration of humanity, as violent, cannibalistic gangs have sprung up to prey on weaker humans for survival.  Furthermore, Dystopian literature often focuses on horrible, unimaginable places worse than the author’s own and highlights the plight of an individual and their attempt to survive in such a place. These genre conventions are evident in The Road, as the novel follows the plight of The Man and The Boy to travel through a harsh, oppressive landscape overrun by damage, decay, and waste in the hope of finding a safe haven at the coast.

Post-Apocalyptic?

The Road can also be considered post-apocalyptic literature, a genre similar to the Dystopian. The Road is set after an apocalyptic, catastrophic event that has destroyed the world. Much of the novel is concerned with detailing this new, frightening, post-apocalyptic world and how survival is even possible in such a place. Furthermore, the function of post-apocalyptic literature is to act as a warning for current readers and to encourage them to take preventative action now to avoid disasters in the future. For example, environmentalists often cite The Road as a warning about what will happen if the environment is not cared for and protected. Others cite The Road as a warning about the collapse of consumerist culture and materialism, as much of the waste littering America is from material luxuries enjoyed by previous societies.

Utopian?

In the midst of all this darkness, decay, and degeneration, it seems impossible that The Road could be considered Utopian in any way. However, The Road could be considered Utopian because it contains hope. Whilst the harsh landscapes and the hardships of life are present in the novel, they are never the central focus. Instead, the emphasis remains on The Man and The Boy, and The Man’s love, care, and protection of The Boy, his son. The Man also continuously encourages The Boy to make moral choices. Key examples of this are The Man’s refusal to engage in cannibalism and The Boy’s refusal to steal from others, even though there is no-one to punish them anymore. Thus, this enduring morality of The Man and The Boy can considered hopeful.

Like The Time Machine, the final decision on whether The Road is a somewhat hopeful, Utopian narrative, or a dark and depressing Dystopian novel is left for the reader to decide.

– Judith