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The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (Penguin Modern Classics) (original 1972; edition 2011)

by Angela Carter

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6771114,123 (3.81)26
Member:skiourophile
Title:The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (Penguin Modern Classics)
Authors:Angela Carter
Info:Penguin (2011), Kindle Edition, 292 pages
Collections:Your library, Kindle
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The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter (1972)

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
While many of Angela Carter’s short stories and novels are delightful, bizarre, and twisted takes on fairy tales and genre stories, some tend more towards the dark, disturbing, and random. I’d probably put a bunch of stories and The Passion of New Eve in the latter category as well as this one, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman. It has a very episodic, random feel, like an old-timey picaresque. There are also a lot of disturbing elements – for example, there is more than one gang rape in the book (err…there’s a centaur gang rape, for those who want to avoid that). The Passion of New Eve had a random feel and lots of bizarre sex and violence, but in that one, I felt there was a strong feminist thread running through the narrative, the author upended a lot of stereotypes, and it was more coherent in its focus on various aspects of an apocalyptic America. There wasn’t as much of that in this one – the stereotypes stayed stereotypes. For example, although the two main characters and One True Lovers, the narrator and Albertina, are both described as non-white, there are multiple characters who are portrayed in a “stereotypical native” way. I also didn’t find the book as cohesive as The Passion of New Eve, even with links to the main Albertina/Dr. Hoffman plot. It was still involving and had Carter’s wonderfully descriptive language, but not her best effort.

I thought the first chapter, describing the War on Reality, was superb. I was expecting something random, but was still a bit disappointed that Carter didn’t focus on that thread. In fact, after the initial chapter, the narrator encounters people and groups who are pretty much unaware of what is going on in the city. The narrator, Desiderio, is a dedicated but rather colorless bureaucrat. He describes how things in the city turned topsy-turvey – a plague brought down by the formerly believed-dead mad scientist Dr. Hoffman.

“The Doctor started his activities in very small ways. Sugar tasted a little salty, sometimes. A door one had always seen to be blue modulated by scarcely perceptible stages until, suddenly, it was a green door.”

But there’s no denying this incident – “During a certain performance of The Magic Flute one evening in the month of May, as I sat in the gallery enduring the divine illusion of perfection which Mozart imposed on me and which I poisoned for myself since I could not forget it was false, a curious, greenish glitter in the stalls below me caught my eye. I leaned forward. Papageno struck his bells and, at that very moment, as if the bells caused it, I saw the auditorium was full of peacocks in full spread who very soon began to scream in intolerably raucous voices, utterly drowning the music so that I instantly became bored and irritated. Boredom was my first reaction to incipient delirium.”

Things rapidly degenerate, as the dead roam the streets, inanimate objects come alive, and phantoms invade everyone’s dreams.

Desiderio faithfully assists the Minister, who is the only one willing to continue defending the city, but admits to himself that he is agnostic in the battle. He has strange dreams that are dominated by his ideal woman, Albertina, and she comes to be his only passion. The Minister sends him outside of the city on a mission related to Dr. Hoffman, but from then on, the narrator runs into one and another set of weird characters. He starts out in the creepy house of a missing mayor, finds refuge with boat-dwelling natives, joins a circus, falls in with a Marquis de Sade-like nobleman, and wanders a weird fantasy land. There are links to Hoffman and Albertina, but sometimes it feels like a stretch. Even when Albertina appears, there is still wandering and randomness. Carter’s writing makes everything very vivid and I was into the story enough, but this one was probably my least favorite of her works so far. ( )
1 vote DieFledermaus | Apr 24, 2015 |
Now this is an interesting novel, albeit not a great one. The book starts off in a city where the titular machine is picking away at the seams of reality, and through those openings pour illusions given form. The opening raised my expectations, as the story of a bureaucrat trying to work in a city being colonized by figments of imagination and where reality is in flux is a fascinating concept. Instead we are only in the city for a brief time before the bureaucrat is sent off on a mission, which sends him to circuses and pleasure houses, and riding on sleighs and riverboats. It's a bizarre tale, not without its beauty, but ultimately it felt like the best opportunity was missed and what was left is more style than substance. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
My shortest review ever: pervy Kafka

Alright, I lied. Not about the pervy Kafka part, but about the length of the review. I owe more explanation. Carter's book messes with reality. It messes with gender roles, gender in general, kind of bestiality...or at least gets halfway there technically I suppose. Covers homosexuality and gang rape (in a few different instances) and was just really a weird book. Now with all the instances of sex and deviant sex (not judging all instances of sex noted above, but yeah...definitely some), it wasn't overly graphic, more just uncomfortable in an artsy way. Lolita level uncomfortable maybe?

Anyway, the book was well-written and pulled it off until the end. The end...oh, the end. It was as if she had to head out for a trip and she knew she'd be gone a while but she was on deadline. So she jotted down a quick wrap. The conclusion didn't do the rest of the work justice, hence, my rating reflects that. ( )
  Sean191 | Jun 24, 2013 |
Angela Carter is often cited as a very well-thought of and influential author. I can see the technical mastery of her writing but I just can't enjoy it very much myself. It is just too dense and too unenjoyable for me. A lot of very bad things happen and no good things, and most of the people are pretty terrible. The general idea of a war against reality is very intriguing, and I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did. ( )
  g33kgrrl | Aug 8, 2012 |
i thought this book was too big for its britches and fundamentally ill-suited to being a novel. the whole underlying notion is interesting, but seems to require a visual component to give it the heft the author tries to afford it with words unnecessarily long and cumbersome. ( )
  arouse77 | Jun 27, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Angela Carterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Perria, LidiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Les lois de nos désirs sont les dés sans loisir.

Robert Desnos
(Remember that we sometimes demand definitions for the sake not of the content, but of their form. Our requirement is an architectural one: the definition is a kind of ornamental coping that supports nothing.)

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Imagine the perplexity of a man outside time and space, who has lost his watch, his measuring rod and his tuning fork.



Alfred Jarry, Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustrall Pataphysician
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I remember everything.

Yes.

I remember everything perfectly.
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The story of a war fought against the diabolic Doctor Hoffman, who wanted to demolish the structures of reason and liberate man from the chains of the reality principle for ever.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141046686, 0141192399

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