Monday, October 23, 2006

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

I first came across Carter’s good name in a eulogy written by Salmon Rushdie in a fairly recent book of his essays entitled Borders. I’ve not finished reading Borders yet, but I was sufficiently captivated by his descriptions of Mrs. Carter’s prose, language, and storytelling, that I ordered up a copy of The Bloody Chamber.

Angela Carter tackles a small collection of fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber. She twists them each to her own ends, usually to play with notions of gender roles, but not in an obvious or dull way. Consider, for example, two different retellings of Beauty and the Beast; one in which Beauty herself transforms into a beast, and another in which she is figuratively beastly towards him. Snow White here involves a fantasy girl, birthed from lust, snow, and a couple’s disenchantment with one another. There are vampire queens, gambling cobblers, rapacious Arabian princes, and so on. The subject matter is a delightful flight of fancy.

But it’s Carter’s language which really glows. There are no dull sentences here, no moribund clichés, no plodding paragraphs. Carter’s words pair off into couples and waltz about beneath the glittering crystal chandeliers of her descriptions; her verbage is active and interesting, her adjectives uncommon. And while, yes, Mr. Rushdie, she does only slightly too often pair off words like “eldritch” or “coloratura”, and while, yes, Henry Holt, she does overwrite many passages into a poetic bouillabaisse rather than more straightforward prose, the language itself is still delightful to read. The Professor would say here that part of the fun is just letting all these fun phrases dissolve on your tongue like acid or a snowflake. And I’d be forced to agree.

Carter is (as Holt complains) a bit prurient on occasion. If phrases like “her cunt split open like a fig” upset you, then some of these stories likely will too. But with a name as obviously provocative as The Bloody Chamber, what would you expect?

Good stuff, Mrs. Carter. I can tell you had fun writing these stories, and I’m eager to read more of those offerings you left with us before you left for some version of Valhalla, where golden eldritch Valkeries punish Loki and sodomize Eric the Red with bountiful cornucopias of amberwine and icemead… Or wherever it was you went… :)

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