Later made into a successful four-part series for the BBC (directed by its author, the first episode of which may be found here), Blackeyes is Dennis Potter’s examination of the valuation the world puts on female beauty, and the process of writing. (Or the role of the author, more correctly.)
The story is pretty simple – Kingsley, a past-it author, finds a new audience through Sugar Bush, a novel created by borrowing from Jessica, his niece. The story of the model – professional name Blackeyes – and the way her Sugar Bush life affects that of its inspiration is where most of the story’s tension originates.
In some regards, it’s Potter-does-Potter, really – there’s The Enduring Mystery Of Women, rooting and bits of improbable nudity.
There’s no doubt that though the main male character of the novel shares a name with an Amis, the doddering, farting author is something of a stand-in for the ageing Potter himself: all befuddlement and teddy bear attachment.
Unfortunately, it’s in this kind of indulgence that the novel falters most. The rants – all very poetic and feeling-my-age as they are – seem rootless and almost chucked in from another work.
Weirdly, the book reads quite well taken as an unfolding mystery, assuming you can sidestep the frequent explosions of purple prose, liberally spiced with a dose of oh-those-youngsters-and-their-talk-I-don’t-understand snark. (There’s a particularly painful interview in the book which it seems was based on a real event, which further supports the idea that Potter put himself in the work, which makes some of Kingsley’s thoughts even more worrying.) There’s a mystery here and though a bit of consideration renders the ending pretty obvious, it’s satisfying to see it come together in the final pages, even if it does appear rushed.
The biggest problem with Blackeyes, though is that it comes across that Potter wants to make a big statement about the objectification of women, but tries to do so through a character who’s not allowed an identity of her own. I wanted to feel something for Blackeyes, or for Jessica, but they were painted so distantly that it was difficult to muster much emotion either way. This could be a brilliant statement on how the consumption of women as body only results in a sort of personality prison, where identity is locked within, not for consumption of the viewers – bit I think that’d be more success than the novel warrants.
Are you better off watching the miniseries? Quite possibly. This is entertaining for a day’s commute, but that’s about it. Sorry, Dennis.