Monday, 30 October 2017

Review: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber by Angela CarterThe Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (Gift) - From familiar fairy tales and legends--Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires, and werewolves--Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories. From Goodreads.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, a collection of (mostly) fairy tale retellings, is a book I have been recommended over and over since I first became interested in fairy tale retellings. It was always highly praised, so I have been really eager to read it for a long time. However, I have finished the book feeling like I've missed something, because I don't really see what all the fuss is about.

And I'm pretty sure I have missed something. The Bloody Chamber is a literary book, and there's always more to literary stories than just a straight story. There's always symbolism, or something being said in the text that has a deeper meaning. But I have never been a person who has been able to see those things for myself, I can only see them once they have been pointed out to me. It doesn't matter that I know there's more to read there - as is specifically mentioned in the introduction by Helen Simpson - if I can't see it, I can't see it. All I read were stories not too dissimilar from the original stories I know, written in a style I didn't much care for.

I made the mistake of starting the introduction before reading the stories, not realising that it would spoil certain things in the stories. So the titular story, The Bloody Chamber, didn't have the shocking affect on me it would have had I not known what was coming. However, I had started the introduction, and before it got into discussion the specific stories, it mentioned that these stories aren't retellings, but new stories. Simpson quotes Carter herself saying, "'My intention was not to do "versions" or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, "adult" fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories.'" (p vii- viii) So my heart sunk; I was expecting retellings, and that isn't what I would be getting. However, I think Carter and I have a different opinion of what "retelling" means, because most of these stories are recognisable as retellings of Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots (Carter's story actually has the same title!), Little Red Riding Hood, and Grimm's original Snow White.

Once I realised the introduction spoiled the stories (whyyyy?), I decided to read the stories, and after each story, flick back to the intro to see what it said about that particular story. The intro is in the vein of literary criticism, so sometimes it pointed out something I hadn't thought about, other times it didn't say very much at all. What I found surprising is that Carter chose to retell Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood more than once; for Beauty and the Beast we have The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger's Bride, and for Little Red Riding Hood we have The Werewolf, The Company of Wolves and Wolf-Alice, and each time, and rather than be spread out throughout the book, with other stories interspersed, they would come one after the other. It was interesting to see the different direction Carter chose to take the stories, each ending differently, and I'm sure there something different she was trying to say with each story, but it was lost to me.

I would like to discuss some of the stories in more detail, but I can't do so without spoiling the stories, so don't read if you've yet to read this book. I know these are retellings, but they don't always end the way you would expect, so it's better to skip this bit if you don't want to know.

Having written this review, and thinking about each story, I think my thoughts on it have slowly changed. There are stories that are interesting, though mostly disturbing on a huge scale. I liked the images and phrases that were repeating in the stories; roses, blood, snow, "the bloody chamber" and "pentacle of virginity". I did notice these things, but, again, if it meant anything, I'm none the wiser. Still, an interesting collection of retellings, but I have to say I did prefer Deirdre Sullivan's Tangleweed and Brine.

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Published: 13th July 2006
Publisher: Vintage Books
Angela Carter's Website

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1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry you didn't like this one. This is one of my favorites. It's a shame that the intro ruined it for you. I tend to skip intros (I'm lazy). I enjoyed the writing and it sparked my imagination in wild ways. Oh, well. I loved reading your thoughts!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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