Monday, April 11, 2011

REVIEW: The Transformation by George MacBeth

In presentation, this book is pure 1970s cheese. The cover features the face of an effeminate male (distinguished only by his moustache), with a naked woman emerging from a vaginal opening between his eyebrows. She is spreadeagled, bent over backwards, with her arms buried in his hair and her assets thrust out for all to see - because, really, what else would you do after climbing out of a cranial-vagina?

It's a shame the cover is so garish and obscene, because the story inside is so very not. Instead, it's subtle, poetic, dreamlike, and vague . . . a story that settles for invoking curiosity instead of arousal. While there are a few sexual scenes (where gender is almost interchangeable), it’s the day-to-day scenes of bathing and dressing that come across as the most erotic.

The Transformation is a story that deliberately alternates between present-tense and future-imperative, written as a direct address to the reader, as if we were the transformed character in question. As for the transformation, it’s actually handled quite beautifully . . . but with just the right amount of humour. Of course, given the perspective, we never get inside the head of Guy/Alcestis, so a lot of the transformation is left to our imagination. Actually, it’s so subtle that, at times, we simply have to trust that a transformation has occurred in the first place.

In addition to being deliberately vague, the story is also confusing to the point of being, at times, bewildering. It jumps between locations without warning, taking us from the home of Alcestis, to a carriage ride through the woods, to a Zeppelin airship, and to a gambling hall that seems to exist in two (or more) places at once. There’s also a sensation of jumping between time periods, from what we assume to be the early 20th century, to what seems to be the 18th or 19th century, to the era of WWII.

By the time the story reaches its climax, it is really left to the reader’s imagination to decide precisely who has been claimed, and how. It appears as if Guy is penetrated by Lord Peter in mid-transformation, taken as both a man and a woman, achieving the sexual satisfaction as both Guy and Alcestis that was foreshadowed from the start. Even after reading it a 3rd time, however, I’m not entirely sure who is who at that crucial moment in time-and-space.

Following that, we clearly find ourselves being addressed as Guy, at which time the story that comes full circle. The final paragraph is a clever reproduction of the first, addressing the future transformation of Guy, rather than the present transformation of Alcestis, suggesting that The Transformation is about to begin again, trapping them both in a perpetual dance of discovery.

Perhaps worth picking up as a curiosity, if you should stumble across a used copy somewhere, but I wouldn’t expend too much effort trying to find one.

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