• Machines in the Head: The Selected Short Writing of Anna Kavan
Available to order
Publication date: 30 May, 2019
Illustrated with Anna Kavan's paintings

Edited by Victoria Walker

This collection of Anna Kavan’s short fiction and journalism marks fifty years since her death in 1968. From moving portraits of clinical depression to phantasmagoric visions of sci-fi wonder – including the previously unpublished story ‘Starting a Career’ – the writings collected in Machines in the Head offer an accessible introduction to readers new to her work and a timely survey of Kavan's diverse writing talents for her fans. Her journalism, giving insight into her radical politics and her thoughts on writing and writers, is reproduced in full.

Dr Victoria Walker has selected stories from across Anna Kavan's collections which represent the very best of her writing and show the incredible range of her style. In Machines in the Head readers will encounter: oblique and elegiac tales of breakdown and asylum incarceration 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 heroin addiction from Julia and the Bazooka. Her late sci-fi stories will appeal to fans of her last novel Ice, and published here for the first time, her story ‘Starting a Career’ is a futuristic spy-thriller, whose protagonist sets out to become the world’s greatest enigma.

Anna Kavan’s journalism, published in Horizon during the years 1943–6, is reproduced in full, introducing readers of her fiction to a further dimension of her writing. Her non-fiction is no less distinctive than her stories and novels, and her provocative, polemical style in both ‘New Zealand: Answer to an Inquiry’ and ‘The Case of Bill Williams’ was radical on first publication. These pieces were a platform for Kavan’s pacifism, her anarchistic ideas and her call not simply to end the stigma surrounding mental ill-health and madness, but to overturn the social order which diagnoses it as a disease. Her book reviews reveal something of her own literary tastes and influences in the mid-1940s, but more often they are merely vehicles for her views on the psychological impact of modernity and wartime, and the necessary role of art and literature in turbulent times.

Although Kavan is better known as a writer than an artist, she painted throughout her life; several of her distinctive paintings will be included in this collection to illustrate her stories.

Readers will find the extraordinary range of Kavan’s work represented in this anthology. She was determined to experiment throughout her writing career and this collection is, by turns, moving, funny, bizarre, poignant, often unsettling, but always distinctive and often unique.

‘One of the most mysterious of modern writers’ / ‘Few contemporary novelists could match the fierce intensity of her vision’ J. G. Ballard

‘If you love JG Ballard, you should read Anna Kavan.’ – Chris Power, The Guardian
‘Entering this haunting realm, the reader will crave to plunge deeper into her metallic and poetically surreal universe.‘ – Patti Smith
‘It is the cool lucid light of that unique mind which makes her Anna Kavan . . . There is nothing else like her writing . . . She is one of the most distinctive twentieth-century novelists.’ – Doris Lessing
‘Kavan’s talent for extracting an austere beauty from intimations of doom is as compelling here as in so much of her greatly admired work.’ – Rhys Davies
‘Kavan wrote some of the twentieth century’s most haunting and original fiction . . . To those cultish fans who see Kavan’s marginality as central to her glamour, mainstream acceptance may be unwelcome. But for this most imaginative and otherworldly of writers, whose plots seamlessly merge fantasy and reality, past and future, life and death, nothing could be more apt than a cross-century literary resurrection.’– Emma Garman, Paris Review

Anna Kavan, for Nova MagazineANNA KAVAN (1901-1968) was a British experimental writer and artist. She is best known for her collections of stories including Asylum Piece (1940), I Am Lazarus (1945) and Julia and the Bazooka (1970) and for her novels including Sleep Has His House (1947) and Ice (1967). During the Second World War she worked as an assistant, critic and contributor for the literary journal Horizon.

Bibliographic Data
Date Published 30 May, 2019
ISBN Number 9780720620542
Book Format

Machines in the Head: The Selected Short Writing of Anna Kavan

  • £16.99

Tags: Kavan, Ferguson, science-fiction, science fiction, sci-fi, slipstream, feminist writing, feminism, Kafka, Kafkaesque, anna kavan, ice