The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
by Angela Carter
I don’t often do book reviews (though this little affirmation is open to debate, since all or most of my academic essays can be said to border on book reviewing), but since the term is over, and I (finally) got the chance to finish reading a most wonderful novel, I’ll indulge in the sweetly perverse pleasures of telling the world about Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”. Firstly, though, I should probably mention that the book is surprisingly hard to come by. Amazon UK lists two different editions of the novel as “not in stock”, though available second hand from different sellers (from admittedly surprisingly low prices). I wasn’t able to find it in book stores for a long time, but I eventually stumbled upon it in Waterstone’s (the one where I found it had only two copies on sale, one of which I purchased; even the cashier pointed out she’d never seen/heard of the novel before, though she liked Angela Carter). This was a bit of a disconcerting situation, since I’d noticed a sustained tendency, as of late, to promote Angela Carter’s writings. So why was/is this particular novel largely overlooked? (Won’t even attempt to answer this question, though; it was simply surprising, that’s all).
The novel in itself is absolutely stunning, the best I’ve read by Angela Carter so far. The plot is woven (and I’ll beg you to excuse my Gothic simile) like an intricate arabesque with interconnecting designs and spread in concentrical circles. It is, in fact, a bit like this, if I may relate to a concrete visual reference. But also, in a sense, like this (yes, I just had to link it to something that’s displayed in a fascinatingly decadent Transylvanian museum). The plot summary, as it appears on the back-cover of my edition (Penguin Books, USA, 1994) goes as follows: