by Angela Carter
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.
I wasn't introduced to Angela Carter in the best way. I was pretty bright at school and I loved English Literature, but at 17 and 18 I wasn't as sophisticated as many other people my age out there were - writers like Angela Carter and Jane Austen baffled me rather than amazed me. I just didn't 'get' them, and because I didn't get them I translated that confusion into contempt and decided I didn't like them.
I was first introduced to Angela Carter in sixth form when we had to read Wise Children and it wasn't a good way for me to be introduced to her as a writer. Some of the students loved it, but I wasn't a fan of bizarre fiction then and that novel was way too weird for my tastes. It still is, to be honest. Foolishly, however, I let that novel taint my view of Carter's other work, so when I was introduced to The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories I decided I didn't like it before I'd even read it.
This is basically a very long-winded way of me saying that I finally decided to give Carter another chance - I've grown as a reader and my tastes are very different to what they were at 18 - and this time around, when I read The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, I bloody loved it. I finally 'got' her.
I often see this collection referred to as a collection of retellings, but I'm not sure if I'd describe them that way. Are these the original fairy tales? No, but to me they feel more like updated versions of the originals than complete retellings. After all, there are so many different versions of fairy tales all around the world; the Grimm Brothers collected their tales, they didn't write them themselves. I mention this because, to me, The Bloody Chamber is always what I think of when I think of the Bluebeard tale - even when I read this collection before and didn't really care for it that story stuck in my head, and I now know it, and love it, far better than any other version.
The first three stories in this collection were definitely my favourite, but there weren't any that I disliked. Even the stories that I still found just plain weird were a joy to read because the way Carter uses language is such a treat; after The Bloody Chamber are two versions of Beauty and the Beast back-to-back, my other two favourite stories in the collection, and even though they were the same story at their core I wasn't bored reading them so close together. In fact those two stories in particular are testament to Carter's talent as a writer; that she can tell the same story in two such different ways, without repeating herself, shows true skill.
This collection is strange and vulgar and sometimes enigmatic, but I had so much fun reading it and it's definitely a book I'm going to re-read in future as I think I'm going to take something new from it each time. I'm so glad I gave Carter (and myself) a second chance.