I find there are some authors that people recommend to you again and again, you say you will get around to reading them yet take forever to do so and then when you do read them realise you might have been missing out on a marvellous author for quite some time. Novel Insights has been telling me for ages and ages I should read Angela Carter but it took Claire of Paperback Reader making April her Angela Carter month for me to finally get started on any of her work. I opted for ‘The Bloody Chamber’ a collection of Angela Carter’s magical short stories. Yet as you may notice it’s taken me almost two months, as I started at the end of April, to get through them. Not because they were hard work but because I wanted to savour the experience.
I find writing about a collection of stories much more difficult than writing about a book. You don’t want to give away the plot of each tale, especially as some can be as short as two pages, as why would anyone read them afterwards? You also don’t want to sound vague and have people not go out and read them because they have no idea what they entail. So I think the best way of initially summarising ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is to call Carters collection an unusual retelling of fairytales we all know and love in a very original and slightly salacious way.
Tales we know and love from our childhood such as Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots and Red Riding Hood get a modern and yet utterly magical makeover. Take for example the title story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (I won’t give away which fairytale its based on though some of you could guess) which has a virgin bride marrying a much older man and leaving her widowed mother to live in a mighty French castle. For the first few pages you think it’s a tale of old with horse drawn carriages and turrets until our heroine gives her mum a call and weeps over golden dolphin taps. Or in another tale where we see Beauty whizzing from the beasts in a taxi to London. Yet Carter cleverly gives the modern world a surreal and magical feel that makes it all work and also makes it a very original retelling, if you can have such a thing.
The reason the word ‘salacious’ springs to mind with the collection is that it’s a very sensual and often sexual world that Carter creates, there are lots of wedding nights and loss of innocence in fairy tales and Carter brings all this to the fore with much deflowering along the way. I don’t know if it’s just in these tales Carter does this or if all her work has an underlying sensuousness? In fact one of my least favourite fairy tales ‘Puss-in-Boots’ became one of my favourites in this collection because it was such a wonderful romp. Whilst these tales are in quite a dark realm they all have humour in them somewhere. Her prose is colourful, entertaining, and taught. I had a sense that as she writes each word needs to be there you never feel there is excessive description, she paints something vividly but leaves the reader with her ideas to work upon themselves.
I wondered if some where Angela Carters original ideas too as I didn’t recognise some of the tales in the collection, mind you I only heard of and read Bluebeard last year so I am not a fairy tale aficionado. Though this collection makes me want to become one. If I had one minor quibble with the book is the order in which the stories run, those with a ‘beast in them being popped next to one an other and all the tales of wolves of all varieties being popped together at the back means they merge into one slightly. Mind you if you are reading one every couple of days then that’s not going to matter is it and I found them the most enjoyable bedtime tales. 10/10
I really enjoyed this and am now wondering which other authors have had a crack at retelling the great fairytales? I also wonder where I should turn with Carter next as I do want to read much more. Should I go for another short story collection? Maybe try more of her fairytales? Or go for a novel… but which one? Who else has read her and what would you recommend?
Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
The Breaking Point & Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier (there is a darkness and humour that I think makes these authors great companions to be read together and this collection features some of Daphne’s darker tales)
Singling Out The Couples – Stella Duffy (the magically surreal in a modern world and sensual nature of the tales above are very much present in Stella Duffy’s tale of a cruel Princess in need of a heart)