Nate D's Reviews > Eagles' Nest

Eagles' Nest by Anna Kavan
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Oct 13, 11

bookshelves: britain, surrealism, read-in-2011, previously-unreviewed, 50s-unrealist
Recommended to Nate D by: the dream within
Recommended for: anxiety landscapes
Read from October 10 to 12, 2011

Wherever I looked, I encountered the same blank rejection, as though, by rejecting the hand, I had initiated a mass-reaction in my surroundings. With dreadful finality, the room itself was casting me into outer darkness.

A paranoiac anxiety-dream of hypervivid bipolar land forms...

Anna Kavan, a forgotten favorite whose virtues I suppose I can't really shut up about here on GR, wrote a number of exceedingly strange novels starting in the 1940s, culminating in her masterpiece of apocalyptic surrealism, Ice, in 1968. This story of a painter who seeks an escape from the empty monotony of commercial art by accepting an ambiguous appointment at a strange mountain mansion, falls from the center of that inventive period, 1957, around the time she was writing the excellent stories in Bright Green Field. In fact, Eagle's Nest most resembles a more developed form of the long closing entry in that volume, "New and Splendid", along with her earlier Asylum Piece. All of these works show the influence of Kafka's arbitrary and unknowable powers, but the beauty of Asylum Piece, and especially Eagle's Nest, is that they reveal these arbitrary forces, obscure and inescapable, to be as much internal as external. The nightmare of Eagle's Nest is that of an entire world peculiarly bound by crushing regulations imposed by uncertain external sources and seemingly impossible to guess at until a transgression has been made -- but worse, this is all driven foremost by the arbitrary processes of human thought, at turns unreasonably hopeful and bitterly defeatist, which seem bent on pushing the characters inevitably into their crucial missteps. Given the remove Kavan seems to have felt from normal life, this may be an entirely accurate representation of her world view. The result is an uncanny novel that drips with a fantastical menace. Definitely one of Kavan's best and strangest novels; a shame that it's also one of the most severely out of print.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls I enjoy your Kavan scribblings, but I can't tell if surrealism or hypervivid bipolar land forms are my literary bag. Would you recommend Ice for the first-time Kavanite?


message 2: by Nate D (last edited Oct 12, 2011 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nate D Absolutely. That one's probably both her most experimental (in a sorta subtle way, in its most experimental aspect, though) and most naratively compelling.


Nate D Actually, it seems sort of surprising that you don't think you're into surrealism in general given that it's one of the foundational movements of post-war avant-garde stuff that I know you do like. There's plenty of throwaway automatic writing and whatnot early on, sure, but it gets pretty exciting pretty quick.


message 4: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls Yeah, I think my loyalty to Queneau and the Oulipo gang has set me against Breton's crew. There's plenty of surrealism in Oulipo texts, only they use different terms. And "Surrealism" doesn't necessarily refer to automatic writing and other torturous forms as you said. OK. Ice it is. And I must read some Ann Quin too.


message 5: by Nate D (last edited Oct 12, 2011 02:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nate D Yeah, Quin's Tripticks is equally hilarious and fascinating.

Actually, calling Kavan a surrealist is kind of a minority view. It's my way of rebelling against the dismissive reduction of a lot of her weirder bits to heroin addiction and dream-memoir, of trying to put full responsibility for her acts of creation firmly in her hands. I think she had the same interests in psychology and the subconscious that inform a lot of proper surrealism.

Now, the Carrington I recommended: she's inarguably a full-on surrealist, working with Ernst and others in the 30s when she was about 19, then developing her vision for the next 70 years


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