I bought this very recently, and decided to read it because the cover photo was so appealing for some reason (the Penguin Modern Classics range are all pretty cool) and because I’d also been craving some good female fiction.
I’ve read a bit of Angela Carter before, I loved The Bloody Chamber and also Nights at the Circus, both of which I studied at Uni. However I found Heroes and Villains to be much more of a slog. It’s very short, only 160 pages, and the subject matter of a girl making her way and discovering her sexuality in a post-apocalyptic world was exactly the sort of thing I would usually choose, but I couldn’t enjoy it 100%.
The story takes place at an indeterminate point in the distant future. There is no mention of the past, or how the human race came to be the way it is now, so we only have the impression that something awful has happened. Marianne is the daughter of a ‘Professor’, living in a somewhat civilised village, learning to read and otherwise her life is pretty much idyllic, even though she doesn’t appreciate it. Underneath the calm exterior of the village are some darker undertones, with the Soldiers exerting more and more power and educated people committing suicide. The society of ‘Professors’ live in fear of the ‘Barbarians’ (as the Professors call them) who periodically raid their villages, steal their supplies and sometimes, their women.
Marianne is itching to get away from her village, and is at the same time haunted by the image of a young barbarian soldier who killed her brother as a child. One night ten years later, there’s another barbarian raid, and she helps the one surviving soldier, named Jewel, escape from hiding and runs away with him. But also kind of gets kidnapped by him. Unbeknownst to her, Jewel is the boy who killed her brother all those years ago. The society of the Barbarians is also less than perfect. They do not make or grow anything, and everything they want is taken by force, which is how Jewel and Marianne eventually end up getting married.
Their relationship is one of opposites, mostly switching between revulsion and desire; and hate, but probably not love. Out of all the Barbarians, Jewel is the most educated, which he owes to the ‘Doctor’, Donally. Donally appears to be an ex-Professor who has either been cast out or has chosen to join the tribe, though it’s never clear which. It is he who arranges the marriage between Jewel and Marianne, and he is cruel and deceptive, and beats his ‘idiot’ son often. The members of the tribe seem to fear and respect him.
Marianne is a complicated character, and one who I would have liked to sympathise with more. Certainly I can appreciate her desire to leave her home village after the murder of her father and childhood nanny. But her venture into the outside world is a strange kind of awakening, which often left me feeling confused. She is headstrong and outraged when Jewel prevents her from leaving the tribe, but she also finds herself drawn to him sexually after their ‘wedding’. But I say it was difficult to sympathise with her because I felt like she was written very confusedly. Not that the character is confused, although she is, but I was confused by her. And not in the way I would like to be. There wasn’t enough to her and she seemed to leap from one mood to another without explanation. She does kick some ass at certain points, though. When Jewel hits her she’s definitely not afraid to hit back, and she’s no damsel in distress.
It's possible I just didn't get it.
I don’t know. I didn’t dislike this, but it also wasn’t easy to read. There is some cool stuff in here – it’s very dark and gothic, and at times funny and there are even some erotic moments. But I was ultimately left feeling that maybe it was too rushed considering the length of the book and the very high style of writing that Carter uses.
Just a small note: over the next couple of posts I am going to be deviating slightly from the selection process because I have been offered some more work experience with a different publisher, Oneworld, which starts next month. So in preparation I’m going to be doing a little brushing up and read a couple of their books so that I can maybe do some sucking up. (Just kidding; I already have a couple of their books unread.)
But next, I am definitely reading The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King.