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Angela Carter: The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman (US: The War of Dreams)

A fantastic (in both senses of the word) journey into the id, ego and superego, with Carter giving us Freud, Frazier and even Fromm, all brilliantly thrown into the mix. The narrator/hero – Desiderio – who is telling us the story as an old man, was the confidential secretary to the Minister of Determination in an unnamed country, apparently located in or to the South of the United States. The diabolical Dr. Hoffman has managed to invent his eponymous infernal desire machines which modify reality and things start changing appearance, at first gradually and then in a more obvious and threatening manner, finally disrupting the city completely. Desiderio is sent on a mission to a remote city and his picaresque journey starts.

Carter beautifully manages this journey when it would have been so easy to fall into a mishmash of fantasy. But, ranging from his visit to his roots (he is part Indian (i.e. native American)), where he nearly gets married, till he discovers that the special dish for the bridal feast is to be him, to the final visit with the centaurs where his beloved Albertina (shades of Proust!) and, incidentally, Hoffman’s daughter, is gang-banged by the equine hominids, Carter serves up a mythic delight that plunges deep into Freud, with sexuality and taboo running rampant. All of it is firmly rooted in the ideas of Hoffman, that reality is ever moving, ever changing and needs to be supercharged, otherwise life is, like the city, solid, drab, yet not unfriendly. Of course, solid and drab win but Carter takes us on a wonderful journey before that final victory.

Publishing history

First published 1972 by Rupert Hart-Davis