I know nothing. I am tabula erasa, a blank sheet of paper, an unhatched egg. I have not yet become a woman, although I possess a woman’s shape. Not a woman, no: both more and less than a real woman. Now I am as mythic and monstrous as Mother herself; but I cannot bring myself to think that. Eve remains wilfully in the state of innocent that precedes the fall.
My first reaction I had to this book was so visceral I surprised myself. Carter’s ‘The Passion of New Eve’ is a book that both horrified and intrigued me in equal measures. In fact, the more violently my emotions reacted to it, the more I needed to read – if only to see where Carter would take me next.
‘The Passion of New Eve’ follows the journey of a young English professor, Evelyn, through a dystopian America where civil war has broken out between different political, racial and gendered groups. After losing his job Evelyn is reduced to living out a meagre existence amongst the rotting streets of New York. Here he meets the beautiful and broken Leilah who spends her days high on hash candy and constructing her nocturnal outfits of furs and fishnets in the mirror. Their brief affair leaves her pregnant, effectively severs the last of his lust. Abandoning her to a solo abortion he runs for the desert and is soon captured by a militant feminist group living in the hidden city of Beulah. It is in this city he will be reborn as ‘Eve’ under the scalpel of their many-breasted leader, known only as Mother. It is here that his new life begins.
I am helplessly lost in the middle of the desert, without map or guide or compass. The landscape around me like an old fan that has lost all its painted silk and left only the care, yellowed sticks of antique ivory in a world in which, since I am alive, have no business. The earth has been scalped, flayed; it is peopled only with echoes. The world shines and glistens, reeks and swelters till its skin peels, flakes, cracks, blisters.
I have found a landscape that matches the landscape of my heart.
This is a poetic and disturbing novel that takes explorations of gender, mythology and iconography to psychedelic levels. There is real brutality in Carter’s depictions of the innate suffering in life. The plot’s immediate prospects of nuclear war take on new levels of poignancy set in the context of its 1977 publication date. Most of the text’s violence however comes directly from clashes between race and gender. However, Carter walks a very careful line in her depictions of gender. Whilst almost all the women of the text suffer ill treatment at the hands of certain males, these men are clearly described as those who in some way fear female sexuality or power due to their own sexual and psychological shortcomings. In addition the most grotesque and monstrous character is Mother herself, a self-styled goddess who wishes to use Eve(lyn)’s new body to create a new race.
The narrative is heavily with symbolism and the politics of power. Carter’s writing is mythic and rich, whilst the story reads as a dark and explosive modern epic. This is a novel that will leave you questioning your own assumptions of female power, mythology and construction. Completely absorbing and well worth the initial effort.
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