Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter)

I feel like I can't talk about how much I love fairy tales in a way that isn't repetitious and annoying. So I shall just say (once again) that I love fairy tales in all forms, including adaptations. I had heard plenty of wonderful things about Carter's The Bloody Chamber and decided to go for it.

I've heard different things about the manner in which Carter adapted the stories, the terms "modernized" and "with a feminist twist" being thrown around a lot. I think that both of these terms, however, don't do the short collection justice--it's easy to hear both of those words in conjunction with "fairy tales" and groan inwardly because it all just feels done before (though this collection is from 1979 so I suppose at the time the idea would not have seemed so overused).

My advice about reading The Bloody Chamber is to stop thinking about how the familiar stories have been updated or shifted in regard to gender roles and perspective. Give them space to breathe and grow because they will ensnare you if you let them. For example, I made it entirely through the titular story--was totally wowed and dazzled--without realizing it was a Bluebeard story. Isn't that marker enough of the author's talent, that she was able to make me forget these were supposed to be fairy tales? I generally don't reread fairy tales for the story (I already know what's going to happen), but rather to see how the familiar content has been used and retold, and very often during this Carter collection I forgot that I already knew what was supposed to happen.

The author takes us through Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and a few stories that don't seem to correspond to one particular tale. There are ten tales, and each of them is distinct and beautiful. Carter's writing is thick and enchanting; I once heard a way of describing a really good book as "feeling suspended in a jar" while you read the book, and I never understood what that meant until I read The Bloody Chamber. I became so fully wrapped up in each little morsel of story and it is moments like those that make reading such a delight.

Normally I like to praise the book and then throw in any negative statements I might have to say about it, but I can't find anything bad to say about it. I was never once bored. There's not a weak story in the bunch (although you might get a little confused if you try hard to pair up some of the stories with fairy tales you already know and expect a one-to-one correlation), though my favorites were "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Company of Wolves".

If you like (or love) fairy tales, then Angela Carter's collection is one to absolutely not be missed. Even if you aren't a fan of the genre or try to avoid retellings, I still think you ought to give The Bloody Chamber a chance. You might be surprised by how pleased you are.

My rating: 5/5
The Bloody Chamber on Goodreads
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