Enter the strange and haunting world of Anna Kavan, author of mind-bending stories that blend science fiction and the author's own harrowing experiences with drug addiction, in this new collection of her best short stories.
Anna Kavan is one of the great originals of twentieth-century fiction, comparable to Leonora Carrington and Jean Rhys, a writer whose stories explored the inner world of her imagination and plumbed the depths of her long addiction to heroin. This new selection of Kavan’s stories gathers the best work from across the many decades of her career, including oblique and elegiac tales of breakdown and institutionalization from Asylum Piece (1940), moving evocations of wartime from I Am Lazarus (1945), fantastic and surrealist pieces from A Bright Green Field (1958), and stories of addiction from Julia and the Bazooka (1970). Kavan’s turn to science fiction in her final novel, Ice, is reflected in her late stories, while “Starting a Career,” about a mercenary dealer of state secrets, is published here for the first time.
Kavan experimented throughout her writing career with results that are moving, funny, bizarre, poignant, often unsettling, always unique. Machines in the Head offers American readers the first full overview of the work of a fearless and dazzling literary explorer.
Kavan's inventive and chilling collection (after Ice), renders a sustained expression of despair from a writer who suffered from mental illness and heroin addiction, and died in 1968, at age 67. Many of the stories are set in mid-century psychiatric institutions. In "Airing a Grievance," the unnamed narrator has been assigned to a psychiatrist-like "adviser" she hesitates to trust, and in "Face of My People," the cruel Dr. Pope ominously compares his war-traumatized patients to oysters and decides "to try a little forcible opening" into the mind of a stubbornly taciturn patient. Bloody car accidents occur in multiple stories, offering a stage for the narrators to reflect on the world's moments of random cruelty. In "Fog," a driver seeks salvation in drugs, which only make her numb to an accident she causes, driving on "as if nothing had happened," while in "The Old Address," the narrator is struck by a car and drowns all the passersby in her blood, thinking, "at last I'm being revenged on those who have persecuted me all my life." While the ceaseless inner torment can become a burden for the reader, flights of fantasy come as welcome relief, such as the freewheeling "Five More Days to Countdown," in which the heroic Esmerelda and her lover escape a student revolt via helicopter. Fans of Doris Lessing will appreciate these shattered glimpses into Kavan's creative mind.