I first heard of British novelist Angela Carter when a professor teased me about being famous. (My name is the same as Carter’s.) Of course vanity made me curious about her writing so I vowed to read some of her work. It only took 30 years to get around to it.
Shadow Dance was Carter’s first novel. It was well-received by critics and established Carter as one of Britain’s most original writers.
I loved her descriptive language. There were passages that I loved so much the reading faltered for thinking about the writing. Here are a few of the many passages I enjoyed:
- “…his tongue rolled in his mouth like a frightened frankfurter…”
- “Honeybuzzard slipped like a slim, blonde porpoise through potential nets of obligation and affection.”
- “Time passed. It trickled through Morris’s fingers in little ticking, sandy grains. Outside, the rain came down; he could almost hear the poor, dry street sighing with relief.”
- “The sweet night thickened as if somewhere someone was boiling it up like jam. Now it had reached the stage where a spoonful would set on a saucer.”
As for the story, it was difficult. The characters were unlikeable people who did terrible things. In some ways, the story was a play on opposite sides of the same dirty coin beginning with the names of the two main characters.
Honeybuzzard is light-colored, playful, and apparently sweet but is fundamentally a bird of prey. He is juxtaposed against the darker-colored, more serious Morris whose dangerous desires are largely kept in check by social guilt and a lack of courage or conviction. Together, they leave a wake of destruction in the lives of those unfortunate enough to care for them.
Having such unlikeable characters made it difficult to decide who I wanted to root for. (Doesn’t every story require at least one character we can cheer on?) Honeybuzzard, while charismatic, was a murderous psychopath. Morris had some empathic awareness even as he wished the worst for others. Oddly, I found myself vacillating between these two distasteful characters as if I had to pick a team. The passive and weak evil of Morris or the active, unflinching, and unapologetic evil of Honeybuzzard? Finally, I decided to root for neither which made me feel like I passed a test.