#250 The Passion of New Eve

I was quite excited about reading this (not sure why because I hadn’t heard of the author and the blurb isn’t remarkably outstanding – maybe just because it was something new I hadn’t heard of before) but it was not what I’d expected at all. The Passion of New Eve is the surreal story of Eve/Evelyn, who, at the beginning goes by the latter: a prissy British male whose view of the women he sleeps with is less than flattering. Evelyn (who reminded me of an intolerable Evelyn Waugh creation from Vile Bodies – the name jogged my memory) maintains an unhealthy obsession with the Hollywood starlet “Tristessa” which follows him across the globe when he moves to New York during the opening paragraphs.
The mysterious figure of Tristessa is ever present throughout the novel as a reoccurring motif with the overpowering themes of femininity/male-female relationship running quite obviously through the various subplots. In New York, Evelyn is seduced by/becomes involved with a seventeen year old dancer called Leilah (seduced might be a bit strong: he sees her in a convenience store and follows her frantically across the city while she piece by piece sheds her clothes until they reach her apartment), who he quickly tires of and flees after heartlessly packing her off in a taxi to get a backstreet abortion. As he attempts to drive across America his car breaks down in the desert and he’s captured by a (literally) underground cult of women, who transform him into Eve, surgically making him into the perfect woman.
Eve then has to come to terms with being a woman and Evelyn now has to encounter men as a female (the first one that he does after escaping the desert cult being a particularly horrible man, which he finds ironic given his own past treatment of women); with Tristessa looming over everything throughout until eventually making an appearance. The book is so fraught with obvious themes that I would have found it nightmarish to have to study or discuss at university (I’ve never been very good with symbolism or analysis of themes etc). At first I found it too symbolic and Evelyn too obnoxious (and the cult slightly too disturbing) but about 2/3 of the way through I did find myself interested and read the last part quite quickly (after having to force myself to return to it 100 pages in). One of the things that I like about reading through this list is that it forces me to read a lot of books that I wouldn’t otherwise: but this is one of the (admittedly only a few) times that I’ve spent most of a book wondering why it’s on the list – in hindsight I think I can see its worth and it certainly was an interesting read though not one I’d be quick to recommend.

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