Sunday, 1 July 2018

Heroes And Villains by Angela Carter


Heroes And Villains by Angela Carter
First published by William Heinemann in the UK in 1969.

My 1960s read for my 2017-18 Decade Challenge
My fourth Classics Club Challenge read
One of my ReadingWomen choices

How I got this book:
Bought a second hand paperback at the Hope Association Book Sale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £8.54 (PB)
Wordery : from £8.15 (PB)
Waterstones : from £9.99 (PB)
Amazon : from $1.98 / £2.99 (used PB / ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Sharp-eyed Marianne lives in a white tower made of steel and concrete with her father and the other Professors. Outside, where the land is thickly wooded and wild beasts roam, live the Barbarians, who raid and pillage in order to survive. Marianne is strictly forbidden to leave her civilized world but, fascinated by these savage outsiders, decides to escape. There, beyond the wire fences, she will discover a decaying paradise, encounter the tattooed Barbarian boy Jewel and go beyond the darkest limits of her imagination.

Playful, sensuous, violent and gripping, Heroes and Villains is an ambiguous and deliriously rich blend of post-apocalyptic fiction, gothic fantasy, literary allusion and twisted romance.

My overriding feeling while reading Heroes And Villains was that this was one of the earliest of the dystopia genre novels, it having been first published in 1969. A quick Google destroyed that theory - Wikipedia points to H G Wells' The Time Machine in 1895 - but to me Carter's story has a certain freshness and naivete that I haven't observed in recent dystopian novels. Hers is set in a land which is recognisably England and where the only peoples to have survived are walled in intellectual communities - the Professors, travelling communities - the Barbarians, and hideously deformed barely-humans - the Out People. In an illustration of 1960s moral standards we barely catch a glimpse of the Out People and the Barbarians seemed to be either the descendants of present-day Irish travellers or perhaps simply the Working Classes. I did wonder if whoever designed Jack Sparrow's appearance had read and been inspired by Heroes And Villains. The Barbarian character Jewel's appearance kept bringing Johnny Depp to mind!

I struggled to decide exactly how much I enjoyed this novel - 3 or 4 stars. On the one hand, Carter's descriptions of this ravaged land are superb. Abandoned mansions drip with decay and I loved imagining the look of the people, especially the cobbled-together Barbarian outfits adornned with beads, feathers and mirror fragments. On the other hand, our heroine Marianne is frequently an exasperating snob and I wasn't convinced by the Doctor's hold over his tribe. The world is richly detailed, but I was underwhelmed by the storyline which seemed, dare I say it, dull! I suspect I would have benefited from reading Heroes And Villains in the early 1970s when I am sure it would have been exciting and shocking. Almost fifty years later however, I felt it needed more tension in order to keep me gripped.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Angela Carter / Dystopian fiction / Books from England

12 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear it wasn't a better read for you. Boring is never good for a book.

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    1. I'm used to dystopian novels having a lot more dashing about and graphically described violence!

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  2. It's not easy to stand the test of time.

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    1. Exactly! If I read this in the midst of similarly vintage novels, I would probably have been more appreciative

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  3. It can be hard to judge classics through our current lens of life, but I'm happy you still enjoyed it.

    Tori @ In Tori Lex

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  4. Dystopian from the past! Interesting! Those Barbarian outfits do sound cool XD

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  5. Hmm, I'm torn. I love dystopias and I love Classics, so maybe I'd like this? I might have to try it out. I'm sorry it wasn't a better read for you.

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    1. I'd say give it a go because the writing itself is brilliant. I think my expectations were more for 'dystopia' and I forgot to allow for 'classic'

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  6. I want to read this one! I have read Carter's short story collection called Fireworks and I really enjoyed that one. I have been meaning to try more. I like the sound of this one being such a refrehsing, early take on dystopia, even if it isn't the earliest.

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