Anita is a collection of short stories by Keith Roberts. Published in 1970, these stories tell of Anita, a witch who may be a thousand years old but has the body of a young woman and the sex drive and recklessness to match. Anita lives with her Granny out in the woods but frequently comes to town to ride in the cars of handsome boys or make friends among the outcasts.
It is a lovely collection. The stories range from comedy like when Granny and Anita get a television, to really dark mood pieces like when Anita’s town friend commits suicide so Anita gets revenge on the town with a nasty curse. The stories were published in a magazine so they are self-contained with some continuity and one story is a direct sequel of another.
This book feels like a strange time capsule that shouldn’t exist. The stories remind me a lot of Vertigo comics in the 90’s and modern paranormal romances. Granny appears to be a distant relative of Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax. Anita’s encounter with a mermaid reads like someone describing a Charles Vess painting. I would not be surprised if Anita was an inspiration for any of these.
Although the original book cover suggests the book is a sex book, it really isn’t by today’s standards. Anita has a lot of casual sex but it is never explicit. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t a sensual delight at times, as the imagery is quite lush. I imagine when this book was published, the idea of a woman fucking whoever takes her fancy must have seemed like porn to mainstream audiences.
My only criticism is that sometimes the witchcraft strays into satire. Hell has a bureaucracy and there is an Infernal Controller who regulates the movement of supernatural creatures like an air traffic controller. It is a shame because mixed with these satirical elements are some really good creepy magic moments that would fit perfectly into a horror novel or a modern supernatural romance. There are quite a few bits I plan to steal for my own fiction.
My copy was published in 1970 but it was reprinted in a lovely hardcover in 1990. The hardcover has illustrations and I am tempted to get it. There is also a cheaper no-frills Kindle version available.