When I picked up Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter, I was hoping to read something light and fun. I obviously don’t know Carter as well as I thought I did because this turned out to be the most disturbingly depressing book I’ve read in a long time.
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.
This isn’t your traditional dystopian, post-apocalyptic story, but it does, nevertheless, play with dystopian and post-apocalyptic themes. It certainly made the story quite interesting, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. At only 164 pages, it’s more a novella than a novel; yet it had the intensity and profoundness of a much longer book. It’s so heavy with symbolism, analogies and discussions of philosophy and aesthetics that it hurt my brain to read it. Heroes and Villains would probably be a great one to read for a women’s writing course, but it’s really not something I’d choose to read for pleasure.