Two months ago, I'd never heard of Angela Carter. Now I can't imagine my "Favorites" shelf without The Bloody Chamber
being a prominent part of it. Carter's fairy tale reimaginings are elegant, hauntingly beautiful, violent, and sometimes jarring in their vulgarity. Many of the narrators are women who, instead of exhibiting the princess-like passivity preferred by patriarchy, have the power to change their circumstances. Carter's protagonists say no, defend themselves, kill, and choose their lovers, among many other things. These diverse tales include Chaucerian vulgarity ("Puss-in-Boots"), necrophilia ("The Snow Child"), torture ("The Bloody Chamber"), and a Nosferatu sighting ("The Lady of the House of Love"). Carter manages to bring these taboo violations, violence, kink, and bawdiness together into something absolutely gorgeous.
The best I can do is to let Carter speak for herself.
Puss-in-Boots on his sexually experienced Master: "I've sat inscrutably by and washed my face and sparkling dicky with my clever paw while he made the beast with two backs with every harlot in the city...."
The foreshadowing of horror in "The Bloody Chamber": "[T]he last thing I remembered, before I slept, was the tall jar of lilies beside the bed, how the thick glass distorted their fat stems so they looked like arms, dismembered arms, drifting drowned in greenish water."
Setting the mood in "The Erl-King": "A cold day of late October, when the withered blackberries dangled like their own dour spooks on the discolored brambles. There were crisp husks of beechmast and cast acorn cups underfoot in the russet slime of dead bracken where the rains of the equinox had so soaked the earth that the cold oozed up through the soles of the shoes, lancinating cold of the approach of winter that grips hold of your belly and squeezes it tight. Now the stark elders have an anorexic look; there is not much in the autumn wood to make you smile but it is not yet, not quite yet, the saddest time of the year. Only, there is a haunting sense of the imminent cessation of being; the year, in turning, turns in on itself. Introspective weather, a sickroom hush."
Seriously, I want to walk through that wood.
Vivid descriptions run throughout the text. The effect of a ruby necklace compared to an "extraordinarily precious slit throat," the jewels "bright as arterial blood." A lady so delicate and fragile of appearance ("the skeleton of a moth") that she inhabits her dress "like a ghost in a machine." I'll stop now. Carter's dense prose forced me to read slowly and mindfully. I want to read this meditative, brutal, sometimes erotic work again and again.
I can't recommend the read highly enough.