Reading through the stories collected in Machines in the Head, one will notice that Anna Kavan had a talent for violence.
A narrator envisions being hit by a car “with the full force of its horrid horsepower” and “transformed into an inexhaustible fountain, spouting blood like a whale.” A doctor visiting a psychiatric hospital is disturbed when a narcosis patient awakens suddenly “from their clouded greyness” with “a look of terror, of wild supplication, of frantic, abysmal appeal.” Machine guns “grind elephantinely over" the narrator during a London air raid. “I can feel the broad beams sawing and the narrow beams scissoring through my nerves.” A flock of gannets swarm over a brood of seemingly abandoned children, undertaking a ritual in which a child’s face is left with “shocking blankness … darkened by two great holes, bloodied pits from which the eyes had already been torn.”
Such passages would make Kavan out to be something of a shock artist, and, perhaps, in a way, she was. She wrote some of the most elegant, lyrical English this side of modernism, but when applied to the precariousness of the human psyche and the world around it, her writing took on a destructive power. In Kavan’s world, even dew-covered crocuses can’t simply gleam in the sun. They must have a “neat, low fire of symmetrical flames.”
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor