Pages - 191
Challenges - Angela Carter month organised by Claire at Paperback Reader
Published by Virago in 1982
The last night I spent in London, I took some girl or other to the movies, and, through her mediation, I paid you a little tribute of spermatozoa, Tristessa.
This is a dystopian novel set in New York, where a civil war has erupted separating the population by race and gender. Evelyn, a male professor sets off to New York to take up a new teaching position. Due to the civil war the teaching post falls through, Evelyn is at a lost, but fills his time with an obsession, Leilah, an African American, underaged night club dancer. He is totally obsessed with her and treats her quite badly. When she becomes pregnant, he becomes repulsed by her and sends her off to hospital for an abortion that ends up leaving her unable to ever have children any more.
With a small inheritance that he receives, he abandons Leilah and races off into the American desert where he is captured by a woman who takes him to live in the city of Beulah. This is as much as I will tell you, because I really don't want to spoil this story. All that I can say is that Evelyn undergoes a transformation. Whilst reading it, I kept holding my breath as the situation changed and went from one extreme to another. The story is full of twists and turns which at times lost me and had me scanning back through the pages to find the clues I had missed. This story has to be the most bizarre book I have ever read. The changes that occur to Evelyn are quite mind boggling and rather sadistic. I am surprised that Evelyn did not top himself by the end of the book, because I do believe any sane person would have reached for poison long before the end of the book.
At times this story was crude and barbaric and it would not normally have been a book I would have picked up, however, I was unusually fascinated by the changes that occurred to Evelyn. This book is not for the faint hearted, it has a high level of sexual content in it, and the violence is a little extreme for my taste. It reminded me a little of what I had read in Jeanette Winterson's book 'Sexing the Cherry,' although during that book I could see no reason for the graphic sexual content, whereas in this book it had a purpose.
Within this book, the majority of female characters are very strong. In quite a large part, most of the women are in control of all the situations. However, there are some women within the book, who are basically beaten into submission and I did find that this really didn't sit well with me at all.
I have to say that this is a really hard book to review without giving away a major part of the plot. I finished reading it last week and I still can't make up mind whether I liked it or not and I do believe it is the sexual content that is affecting my judgement. I am not a prude, but I just don't feel comfortable reading about anyone being ripped of their dignity in a sexual situation. Yet the book is beautifully written, the descriptions are vivid and full of life.
All I can conclude from this book was that Carter was not afraid to speak her mind and did not care what people thought of her unusual imagination. I have read other books by Angela Carter and I would probably say that I disliked this one the most, even though it was so beautifully written. I am quite lost for words. I am not sure if this is a feminist book, as in parts in turns feminism on it's head. It definitely looks closely at the role of gender. The book also looks at sins and how they are forgiven in the end.
I would suggest others read it and decide for themselves whether they like it or not, as this book will not appeal to everyone. Personally, I am still perched happily on the fence unsure which wait I should fall.