Doctor Hoffman has invented machines which can turn reality into fantasy. He attacks the city, threatening the supply of mundane things such as bread and milk, and a war breaks out. Desiderio, assistant to the Minister, is sent out into the countryside to track Doctor Hoffman down.
But Desiderio is haunted by a woman he has met in his dreams and who shifts her shape: Albertine, the Doctor's daughter. So his quest is to find Albertina. He embarks upon a picaresque journey through fantasy landscapes and has fantastic sexual adventures: in the Mansion at Midnight he sleeps with a woman who then turns up dead so he is arrested for murder; escaping he travels with the River People who find him a child bride but plan to eat him at the wedding; he is buggered by nine Moroccan acrobats (twice each) and so on. In the end, it transpires that the source of the Doctor's power is eroto-energy generated by cages of copulating couples.
This is classic 1960's fantasy; fairgrounds and ethnic peoples and centaurs and all obsessed with sex.
I found it very wearying.
She writes with enthusiastic description but there isn't much of a story.
It reminded me of Candide in the way our hero embarked on a remarkably improbably adventure which led to sex and death and mutilation and at the end of each chapter enjoyed the most improbable escape. At least no characters actually came back to life. But, in a way that those of us who remember the 1960s with affection still regret, it ended with a remarkably naff parody of a James Bond film as our hero outwits the man who wants to rule the world.
There were several bits that made me sit up and think although these were not in the end adequate recompense for the silliness of the story:
- "I used to think that the Faust legend was a warped version of the myth of Prometheus, who defied the wrath of god to gain the prize of fire."
- "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear."
- "the Procrustean bed of circumstance"
- "Your bill will be presented on departure sir" (there's a metaphor for life!)
Carter has wonderful descriptive powers and a brilliant imagination but perhaps she would have done better in short stories (like Jorge Luis Borges?. I preferred her Heroes and Villains which is 100 pages shorter than this and I much preferred her collection of short stories based around retold fairy tales: The Bloody Chamber.
June 2015; 271 pages