Author: Angela Carter| Genre: Short Stories | Pages: 214
In The Bloody Chamber – which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves – Carter spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition.
I have always believed that authors are know for their voice more than their stories. And very few have been really able to establish theirs in a way that remains unforgettable through ages. For instance, Poe, Tolkein, Wodehouse, King, Carroll, Marquez, etc. When I stumbled past an excerpt of Carter’s Bloody Chambers, I got a feeling that she was leagues apart many from her age. And I picked up ‘The Bloody Chambers and Other Stories’ before my curiosity had died down.
Those following my blog probably already know how much I love Short stories as a genre. That said, reviewing a collection is no easy task. Because you have to be fair to every story, and like any other collection, there are always some stories you love more than others. Giving a collective fair rating is thus, tough. In Carter’s ‘Bloody Chambers and Other Stories’, it wasn’t that tedious at all, because all the stories are equally stunning.
This collection contains ten stories – The Bloody Chamber, The Courtship of Mr Lyon, The Tiger’s Bride, Puss-in-Boots, The Erl-King, The Snow Child, The Lady of the House of Love, The Werewolf, The Company of Wolves, and Wolf-Alice. I loved The Snow-Child, The Lady of the House of Love, The Erl-King, and the titular The Bloody Chamber, more than the rest.
“When I saw him look at me with lust, I dropped my eyes but, in glancing away from him, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. And I saw myself, suddenly, as he saw me, my pale face, the way the muscles in my neck stuck out like thin wire. I saw how much that cruel necklace became me. And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.”
In her outstanding revisiting of the classic fairytales; and mind you, I am not saying retelling because although Carter’s inspiration maybe those childhood tales we grew up listening too, the plots are distinct and no way related, what makes her writing stand out is the powerful evocative language, luscious imagery of landscapes, paired with the rare play of words that invites the reader on an adventurous journey than a mere reading experience. Her imagination is vivid and gripping, and her choice of words make the prose not just powerfully memorable, but one that excites you to reread the tale over and over again.
“She herself is a haunted house. She does not possess herself; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the windows of her eyes and that is very frightening.”
Underlying themes such as desire, rape, sexuality, eroticism, dominance, physical violence, sex, gothicism, etc., were tad unexpected because when you think fairytales, you have certain preconceived notions of what the plots might entail. But these turned out to be pretty little packages of surprise with feminist spins making our heroines much more powerful and at times, savage, brutally so. They are no more the damsels in distress waiting for the knight, but pretty galant fighters themselves.
“Your thin white face, chérie; he said, as if he saw it for the first time. Your thin white face, with its promise of debauchery only a connoisseur could detect.”
Carter is quite the prodigious when it comes to burning the stereotypes in their bed, stripping the traditional tales off their idealistic albeit dumb charm, and rescuing the famous female characters through new modern means of sexual or psychological liberation, imparting them the freedom as the modern world deems fit. She doesn’t care pulling reins on her free-willed; at times, wayward women, and pretty much enjoys their extravaganzas. These tales will most certainly change your outlook toward the classic by notches, and if you have the heart to segregate the mesmerising from the morbid, these tales are most certainly for you.
That said, I would shy away from recommending Carter’s compelling collection to kids, not yet! I’d rather have them enjoy their nights while they can, and the monsters can wait!
You can buy your copy of The Bloody Chambers and Other Stories here.
Have you read ‘The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories’? How did you like it? Share your thoughts in comments below.
Happy reading till we meet next.
Until then, carpe diem! 🙂
© Asha Seth