July 16, 2009

Review -- "The Bloody Chamber," by Angela Carter

Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, published by Penguin (ISBN 014017821x), tells a selection of fairy tales; however, like Emily Dickenson's suggestion for truth, she tells them slant. These are tales in wolves' clothing, wearing originals skinned and not quite as expected. Ms. Carter delivers an Victorian panorama of beastly suitors, ruby necklaces that mock mortality; yet, her women survive seductions, becoming neither frail ghosts nor wanton puppets. Her language retains a stately pace but doesn't forsake modern metaphor.

This is not a book to take in at one sitting. The tales themselves repeat situations and themes, although not in exactly the same way, and the pacing itself grasps at the reader's ankles like mud from a moor. This works against the longest tale in the collection, the titular "The Bloody Chamber." Although the images were finely tuned (funeral lilies decking a bridal bower, the grim pornographic boredom of the husband, and his signature scent of leather/flayed flesh), I found myself impatient and bereft of concern for the characters until the very end. The gem in this collection for me was the middle tale of the Erl King. This crumbling deity of a dying forest was powerful and dangerous and I found myself finally enchanted by the pace, drowned in the rotating pull of her imagery.

Be prepared for tales that read as if drawn from a diary, with skipping fragments, fantastic and baroque images, and a graphic dream physicality. There is none of the easy release of the typical romantic fairy tales. Although I found parts beautiful, my enjoyment was often confounded by the language. Readers who enjoy poetry and are looking for fairy tales for themselves and not their children may want to check out this collection.

-- Chrissa


Arlene deWinter said...

You have written a review of one of my favorite books of all time...I find the heroine of The Bloody Chamber very sympathetic, but I wonder if it is because I was born before 1970, when women were raised to be dependent on men -- even to the point of staying with abusers. The self deceiving passivity of the heroine is therefore quite resonant, as well her duplicity in her own demise. The baroque elements of Carter's work make her one of the foremothers of the modern Goth culture, well before Ann Rice. I actually met someone in London who had seen her read and said the room was full of Goths which fascinated Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber was a big influence on Tanith Lee. You should check out her old collection Red as Blood. Its out of print but still available at Amazon.
I am a great lover of language which is why I primarily read British authors.
Carter is also influenced by Freud and Surrealism. She therefore uses a lot of sexual psychology, and attempts to break through to the subconscious mind with her imagery, to look deeper into the iconic images of the fairy tales and extract the repressed elements.
Anyway -- that's my 2p for what it's worth.

C. Sandlin said...

I wouldn't argue either with your love of her language or the goth elements in the stories and believe that coming up through a tradition of British mystery fiction (Sayers, et al) and in a post-Buffy era probably does orient my viewpoint a litte differently in regards to the characters. I can't help but think that the mother's story in TBC would have been a stronger and more interesting tale. Again, probably a viewpoint that arises from when I came to these tales. I've noticed that I have problems with older tales like Lud-in-the-Mist and The Worm Ouroborous because I'm not as patient as I was as a younger reader and they seem even more a relic of a far-distant than they should. I look forward to perusing Red As Blood & will be forewarned to take it slowly and savor it. Any other suggestions? :) -- Chrissa