Posted on | May 3, 2010 | 9 Comments
Angela Carter’s debut book, Shadow Dance, is the fifth book by her that I’ve read, and it’s as bizarre as the previous three. Due to a million other things, I wasn’t able to get my thoughts out on this sooner, which is a pity, as I wanted it to tie in with Claire’s Angela Carter Month, which I have mentioned before. Oh well, better late than never, I guess.
Shadow Dance is set in London in the 1960s (similar to Several Perceptions), and it focuses on the darker side of London, with unlikeable characters taking centerstage. The opening chapter of the book itself dove straight into the story: the return of a young beautiful girl who was raped and had her face knifed (and subsequently scarred for life) by the idiosyncratic Honeybuzzard.
However, neither the girl (Ghislaine) nor Honey are the protagonists of the book – at least, neither of them seem to be the protagonists to me. Yes, the book does revolve around them, but it’s through the eyes of Morris – a weak indecisive character, who runs an antique shop with Honey.
Morris had slept with Ghislaine, despite being married, and spends most of the book trying to avoid her, as she returns to reality, after spending a fair bit of time at the hospital. Her return affects a fair few people, who frequented the same bar as her. It also affects the wives of the many people who slept with her.
Honeybuzzard is away when Ghislaine returns, and when he makes an appearance in the book, it’s with a new lover in tow: Emily. Emily doesn’t know Honey (or Morris) very well, but she does cook for them and help them keep the store. A mysterious character, obsessed with cleanliness, Emily rarely smiles and remains a figure of much contemplation.
As the many characters in the book come together, so the story evolves, and keeps the reader turning page after page, delighting in the beautiful, yet macabre, writing.
He lived in a state of guilty fear, starting at sudden noises, frightened of shadows. He was tormented by a recurrent dream, a mutation of the nightmare of the first night. /he dreamed he was cutting Ghislaine’s face with a kitchen knife. The knife was blunt and kept slipping. Her head came off in his hands, after a while, and he cut her into a turnip lantern, put a candle inside and lit it through her freshly carved mouth.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, which is an incredibly strong debut. I find it takes a special kind of talent for the writer to write a book, where none of the characters are really likeable, and yet, the story is completely captivating. One keeps hoping that one of the characters will redeem themselves, and one keeps wondering how much worse a character can get. It’s a fascinating glimpse into people, their personalities and how they live with themselves, just to get by.
I do wonder though, how I’d read this book, if it was my first Carter. Would I enjoy it as much as I did, or would it be way too disturbing?