I read this first in university, lo these many years ago, and reading it again was quite a different experience. I read it the first time for the story of overwhelming passion and self-pity, love and loss; this time around it was much more about the language. It is an extended prose poem, with echoes of the Song of Solomon recurring throughout, and the title drawing on the Psalms. When I was 19 I was swamped by her longing, her agonies of love; this was passion, I thought. Upon rereading at an more advanced age, I realize I just wanted to smack some sense into her. "He's not worth it!" I wished I could yell at her. He was older, married, and much practiced at seduction. I imagine his Frequent Philanderer points were sky high. He seemed to be an addiction for her; he was a heavy drinker and so was she when she was with him. As it happened, it was a typical but long-standing affair; promising to leave his wife, he never did. Smart had four children by him.
That sordid summation is not really what the book is about, however. It is about how it is written. Smart (or her narrator) seemed to want someone to act as the focus of her infinite capacity for love; she decided upon Barker. The language is baroque in its ornamentation, pulling in the whole world, natural and literary, to describe and reflect their passion, glorious and squalid simultaneously. Read it as a poem and it carries you along on waves of emotion. The images crowd in upon each other, and some of them are startling, catching the eye like a diamond in the setting of golden prose.
Fear will be a terrible fox at my vitals under my tunic of behaviour.
My heart is its own destructive. It beats out the poisonous rhythm of the truth.
But I have become a part of the earth: I am one of its waves flooding and leaping. I am the same tune now as trees, hummingbirds, sky, fruits, vegetables in rows. I am all or any of these. I can metamorphose at will.
For an extended vision of the interior life of a woman in the throes of an unquenchable passion, read this cult classic. Admire her facility with language, if not with life.
Update: over at DoveGrey Reader, she talks about an essay by Ali Smith:
Relating the tale of Angela Carter's inclusion on the editiorial committee of Virago Books in the mid 1970's and the reason she gave for joining, "by the desire that no daughter of mine should ever be in a position to write By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, exquisite prose though it may contain. By Grand Central Station I Tore off His Balls would be more like it I should hope"