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.’
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.