I was lucky enough to have a bit of Christmas holiday and spent most of it reading (to escape writing). I had a pending project to read more Angela Carter, and set to the task as soon as my London-bound train took off from Brussels. With the momentary lapses to Donna Tartt’s Secret History and Simone de Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay, I stuck to my Carters and finished a respectful stack of her writing.
I don’t care for hobbits and fairies and such as far as literature is concerned, therefore I’ve always shied away from anything smacking of “fantasy”. Thus I was slightly worried what would await me, as Carter is considered one of the most notable writers of fantasy, fairy tales and Gothic horror. On the other hand I have quite a penchant for (literary) Gothic weirdness, such as the Brontë-sisters and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, so I figured my Carter-experiment couldn’t go too much awry. It didn’t.
Carter started her writing career as a journalist and ventured off to write short fantasy stories, kind of adult bedtime stories laced with feminism and anarchy with a side of traditional fairy-tale elements. Her probably most famous work is The Bloody Chamber, which indeed is an impressive remake of the age-old French Bluebeard. Before starting my project, pedantic person that I am, I had prepped myself by reading an excellent biography The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon. I thus already knew a bit about the author, who died prematurely at the age of 51 in 1992.
Her life was much driven by her desire to escape her controlling parents and later her (first) marriage. She travelled far and wide, living and working both in Japan and in the US. As often is the case, also Carter’s literary genius was only fully acknowledged when she died.
So, what about the books, then?
Below the ones I read, and please be reminded that these are mostly short stories.
Carter must-reads for everyone:
The Bloody Chamber (a Gothic-feminist fairytale based on an old folk-tale. The collection also includes remakes of “Puss-in-Boots” and ”The Beauty and the Beast”)
Black Venus (real-life-based love story between Charles Baudelaire and his exotic muse)
Carter must-read for the slightly more acquired tastes:
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (This is a tricky one to describe – the writing is influenced by Carter’s stay in Tokyo where, according to herself, she became radicalised. The story is a full-on fantasy fiction deal with pornography, feminism and postmodern pastiche thrown into the mix. Carter also wrote the essay collection Nine Profane Pieces about her experiences in Japan. I haven’t read them yet.)
Carter must-reads for relationship junkies:
Must reads about Carter:
The Inventional of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon
Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls & Wicked Women (this is a collection of short stories reflecting the “intelligence and deliciously anarchic taste of Angela Carter” featuring texts by Colette and others. Much recommended.)
Classic Angela Carter (which I have not yet read):
The Magic Toyshop
The One I Still Want to Read, Based on the Titles of the Short Stories:
Burning Your Boats – The Collected Short Stories (Including pieces called “The Man Who Loved a Double Bass”, “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter”, “John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” and “Alice in Prague or The Curious Room”.)