Not Much LOVE in This One…

770632Angela Carter’s Love is the third full-length book by her that I’ve read. I found it to be disturbing. Carter’s prose is as imaginative and wonderful as in her other writing, but here it cloaks a story about love, sex, violence, and madness that was hard to swallow.

At the beginning of the book, we meet Annabel. She is walking home through a park but gets filled with terror when she sees the moon and the sun in the sky at the same time. She hides under some bushes and stays there, unable to move, until her brother-in-law Buzz finds her and brings her home. Annabel’s husband Lee is waiting there for her. Lee is a young school teacher with a brilliant smile and an eye condition that makes him cry easily. While these characters are all a bit strange, they are not all that unusual, considering that Angela Carter created them. It is obvious that Annabel is suffering from mental illness, but it seems that her husband is taking care of her.

But then Carter starts to drop hints that all is not as it seems. The reader starts to wonder just how ill Annabel is. She is unable to relate to the world around her in any way whatsoever. Lee is having affairs to escape his wife who can’t see him as a human being. Buzz, who at times thinks his unknown father might have been a Native American, likes to take pictures of Lee and Annabel—mostly at inappropriate moments. At first, it looks like he’s developing an unhealthy obsession with his brother and sister-in-law, but then it becomes clear that the brothers might have already had an unhealthy relationship with each other long before Annabel entered their lives.

The self-destructive behavior and power struggle of the three main characters gets worse throughout the book. I have to admit that I felt uncomfortable reading it.

“[Lee] and Annabel sometimes played chess for she liked to handle the pieces of a red and white Chinese ivory set that Buzz had somehow acquired for her; she would fall into a reverie, her eyes fixed vacantly on the board caressing the knight or castle in her hand while Lee gnawed his fingernails and waited for some startling, irrational move with would throw his mathematical attack into disarray.

‘She plays chess from the passions and I play it from logic and she usually wins. Once, I took her queen and she hit me.’

Though, he recalled, not sufficiently brutally to require that he tie her wrists together with his belt, force her to kneel and beat her until she toppled over sideways. She raised a strangely joyous face to him; the pallor of her skin and the almost miraculous lustre of her eyes startled and even awed him. He was breathless with weeping, a despicable object.”

Carter’s books usually make me think, especially because she so often plays with gender roles and turns them on their head. But with this book, I didn’t see a point. Other than Carter’s amazing language, there was not much to love in this book.

Carter

I’ve read this book as part of Angela Carter Week, hosted by Caroline and Delia. If any participant, or really anyone else, has read Love, I would love to hear about your reading experience. Did I miss something in this book?

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24 comments

  1. I found Love a really disturbing read as well and it has been very interesting reading your review and the comments. I think one of the key things I got from the novel was how the word ‘love’ is used and abused and how destructive it can be, particularly for women. A lot of the time it felt like Lee was trying to convince himself that he loved Annabel because he felt guilty for not being able to help his mother when she went mad. The idea that Annabel needs Lee to be her saviour, and that he is encouraged to look after her by the psychiatrist after her first suicide attempt, seems ridiculous now. I think Violet is right – Annabel joining a consciousness raising group may have altered the ending of Love and it is significant that she was brought up in a very strict and traditional household.

    • I found Lee to be a very contradictory character. On the one hand, he seems to be a caring person, taking Annabel home with him to protect her and being a teacher. On the other hand, he has affairs, is destructive, and has an odd relationship with his brother. I was taken in by his beautiful smile at first, and when I realized that, I felt as used as some of the women in the book. It was a weird feeling. Now that I have put some distance between me and the book, I do feel some pity for Annabel, but I am mostly left with a feeling of hopelessness for the characters.

  2. I like the sound of this, even if it didn’t live up to your expectations. The only Carter I’ve read is The Bloody Chamber (which I loved), but I’ve been wanting to try Nights at the Circus for a while.

  3. Hmm… I don’t think this one is for me. I think I’d find it too disturbing! I’ve heard really good things about Nights at the Circus so I might start with that one!

  4. It’s interesting to read such different reactions to the same book. As I haven’t read it, I don’t know at all how I would react. I loved The Magic Toyshop but it had some elements that I found repulsive as well. They made sense, but still. It sounds like this one is similar in that regard.
    I’m quite tempted to read it as well now.

    • I’d love to hear what you think of Love. I found surprisingly few online reviews, though I didn’t look very hard. I am planning to read The Magic Toyshop, and I was actually thinking about reading it a little sooner now. That’s why I like these events… you get so many different opinions and lots of food for thought.

  5. I really like Nights at the Circus; it’s one of my favorite books. I still have to read The Magical Toyshop. I’m looking forward to your review of it. It already looks like Angela Carter Week will be success.

  6. I’ve just read this, too, but I liked it. I found important issues underpinning the narrative, such as the class divide, and feminist ideas surrounding women’s oppression and power.

    I noted symbolic references to patriarchy and feminism in the chess game scene: Carter shows us that Lee feels like an ‘object’, an instrument of patriarchal power, and as such he feels despicable. And in my reading, Annabel is not a victim but is triumphantly empowered by her ability to reduce him to the status of a brute. I think that Carter is telling us to look more closely at the power structure of male/female relationships because maybe things are not as clear-cut as they seem?

    I always find Carter’s writing to be multi-layered and open to interpretation, which is what makes her books so interesting. 🙂

    • Thanks for you comment! I agree that her work is multi-layered, and I always find new things to think about. I think what threw me off with this book is Annabel’s mental illness. I can see her no longer being a victim, except I couldn’t be sure whether this is happening on purpose or not, since she has no grasp of reality, or at least what others consider reality. I found her smile towards the end just as creepy as Lee’s manipulating smiles.

      • I think that maybe Carter is showing us how trying to live within the patriarchal system of control and repression literally drives women crazy. As I see it, Annabel comes from a middle class family and her parents seem to have strongly repressive and traditional values. She hasn’t been brought up to be independent and self-reliant, so she’s emotionally needy. Lee and Buzz are both psychologically damaged and have no love to give to Annabel. I think she feels terrified by life and horribly anxious about what’s happening to her, and she sees suicide as the only way out of her intolerable situation. I think that maybe Carter is referring to the way in which the social changes that feminism brought about were largely driven by women feeling trapped and miserable and wanting more out of life. Annabel wants more and different, but she ‘s not strong enough to strike out on her own. If she’d joined a consciousness raising group things might have turned out differently. 🙂

        I found a lot to ponder over in the book. It’s not a particularly comfortable read, but I wouldn’t want people to shy away from the book because it deals with difficult things. It’s clear that you and I have had very different reading experiences with this book, which just goes to show how much the text is open to various interpretations.

      • Thanks for taking the time for a longer explanation. I had looked at Annabel as mentally ill, while you see her as being unable to figure out how to throw off social restrictions. While it doesn’t make me like this book any more, I can certainly see your point and it makes sense. You’ve given me something to think about… thank you.

  7. I am only recently acquainted with Angela Carter, and while I enjoyed Bluebeard very much it is the only full length collection of hers I’ve read. I don’t think I could do very well with this book you reviewed; reading about violence and abuse upsets me, let alone mental illness. Especially throughout the novel. I think I’ll finish Nights At The Circus, and I also plan to read The Magical Toyshop, but I’ll pass on this thanks to your great review.

    • Nights at the Circus is one of my favorite books. This one just didn’t work for me. I still have to read The Magical Toyshop. I hope you enjoy both of them. It already looks like Angela Carter Week will be success, and I’m looking forward to reading reviews of her work all week.

  8. This does sound like dark uncomfortable reading. The only Angela Carter I have read is the book of short stories The Bloody Chamber. I’m not joining in the Angela Cater reading week as I didn’t have any of her books tbr but I am enjoying seeing everyone else talking about her books.

    • This is already shaping up to be a successful week; I’m looking forward to reading lots of reviews. Unfortunately, I picked a disappointing book to start off, but that’s ok. The next one is better.

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