The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody ChamberI don’t usually read every single story in an anthology or short story collection. I did a couple of times before but it didn’t work well. I’m glad I did for The Bloody Chamber, because it felt like all the stories belong in the same world, like glimpses of different lives in separate parts of the same universe.

I gathered from people’s reviews that Angela Carter’s works are often studied in schools. It’s quite obvious why from the get go. Her language is lyrical, her writing daring, and her story full of symbolism. Her vocabulary level is a bit higher than what is comfortable for me, but more often than not I could let myself lost in the beauty of her prose, prose that evokes vivid imagery and creates such mysterious atmosphere.

To call The Bloody Chamber a collection of fairy-tale retelling is rather diminutive. It’s more accurate to say that Carter ripped fairy tales apart, took some of the elements, sewed them back with her own imagination, and made them her own. I loved how dark and how different they were. Most of the setting is an odd mixed of old and modern world. There are beast and vampire in ancient castles, but there are also bicycle and telephone. (I can hear you say “Whaa?”)

What sets her apart for me is how her writing oozes sexuality. It’s almost like girl soft-porn for the literary minded (and uum I meant that as a compliment). There’s almost an obsession on innocence and virginity.

“She stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver.” ~ from The Company of Wolves

There’s so much foreplay and built anticipation, while the “main action” is secondary, or almost non-existent. (girl porn, right?) I find many female writers shy away from the subject of sexuality, it’s water they don’t want to get near to. So I felt what Carter did was refreshing and liberating.

What didn’t sit right with me was the endings, which were often abrupt and confusing. I guess it goes back to the symbolism which probably just went over my head. Some elements are just plain bizarre, which were okay in the middle of the story because of the fairy-tale aspect to it, but bizarre ending left me dissatisfied.

Now I’m going to talk about each of the story. I’ll try to keep any spoiler as minimal as possible, but I can’t be completely sure of what you consider spoiler or not. So proceed with caution.Angela Carter

There are 10 stories in the collection. I’ll start with the longest, The Bloody Chamber, which gives the title of the collection, and is 42 pages long– almost 1/3 of the collection! Luckily it’s easily one of my favorites. Based on the Bluebeard tale, a young girl marries an older man and she is brought to his majestic castle. What she doesn’t know, within the few months of their courtship (doh!), is that he has a perverse, dangerous fetish. I loved how it was written, how believable everything was, how it kept the suspense very well, until the part where she finds out about his secret. Then it just went downhill for me. 4.5 stars

The shortest in the collection is The Snow Child, which felt like a reminiscence of Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman I read recently, is only 1.5 page long! Loved the beginning, confused about the ending. One question. What’s with Snow White and necrophilia? That’s second time in a row! 3 stars

There are THREE stories based on The Little Red Riding Hood:

The Werewolf which is the shortest of the three (2.5 pages long) is the closest to the original story, with a simple twist: grandma is the also wolf. 3 stars

The Company of Wolves takes a different twist. Wolf becomes a handsome man and flirts with Red on the way to grandma’s place. Once Red arrives, grandma has been eaten and Wolf is ready to eat Red too. It’s sexual awakening for Red when she realizes her attraction to the man/wolf (regardless whether he ate grandma or not) and they end up sleeping together (which I frowned upon… What about grandma? Did you forget?) 4 stars

Wolf-Alice is the farthest away from The Little Red Riding Hood. In fact I’m not sure if they’re related at all apart from the wolf thing. It’s probably a hybrid with Alice in Wonderland seeing the title, but in what aspect I’m not sure either. This was where I learned the term feral child. It starts with a girl who is raised by a pack of wolves. Some nuns take her in then after a while somehow send her to live with a lonesome Duke in an ancient castle. Problem is, the duke is a vampire. (!) What an odd storyline. 3.5 stars

The Lady of the House of Love is based on Sleeping Beauty, only Beauty is not sleeping. She’s a vampire, a lonely one at that because she just has to kill all these men that visit her castle and drink their blood. One time though her tarot card shows that there will come love instead of food death, so she waits anxiously for her prince, who finally comes on a bicycle. (lovely) This story is probably my next favourite. I love the description of the princess and her doomed fate. 4.5 stars

There are TWO stories based on Beauty and the Beast.

In The Tiger’s Bride, Beauty is lost to Beast on her father’s game of cards. She is brought to Beast’s castle and not long after finds out that Beast really really wants to see her without clothes. (uhuh!) I liked how the story was kinda naughty and sexy, but again the ending baffled me. “What’s going on?” I moaned. “What does it mean?” (rinse and repeat for almost all the endings) 4 stars

In The Courtship of Mr Lyon, Beauty is forced to visit Beast’s castle after her dad’s attempt to steal Beast’s white rose. With a little bit of trick, Beast manages to keep Beauty in the castle for longer, what with her dad busy taking care of his business at another city. Beast acts all gentleman-ly and sparks start to fly. One day Beauty finally leaves the castle and forgets all about Beast. This is probably one of the more “normal” stories–just a simple love story between Beauty and her Beast. 3.5 stars

The last two stories I read were also my least favorites. Puss-in-Boots tells about a cunning cat and his master, trying to win over someone else’s wife. There were just too many weird unfamiliar words used in the story, I started skimming near the end. The writing just didn’t work for me. 2.5 stars

The Erl-King is about a maiden who is seduced over by the forest king. Better than Puss, but it didn’t captivate me much, and again the ending confused me. 3 stars

In conclusion, an interesting seductive introduction to Angela Carter’s work. I just wish I could discuss most of the stories in class and dissect all the meanings with the experts. But it also means I can see myself going back to re-read some of the stories in the future.

Thanks to Claire who has been such an awesome host to Angela Carter Month. I definitely look forward to reading more of Carter’s works in the future!

4 stars
1979, 149 pp

1979 Cheltenham Prize for Literature

Once Upon a Time IV (book #3), Book Awards IV (book #9), Women Unbound (fiction #7)

Also reviewed by
another cookie crumbles
| Stainless Steel Droppings | A Striped Armchair | Estella’s Revenge

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

Pride of Baghdad

Pride of Baghdad is graphic novel based on a true story of four lions that escaped from Baghdad Zoo after American bombing in 2003. Since the animals have dialogues, obviously it’s highly fictionalized. One may read it as an allegory of the Iraqis. I just read it as what it is.

Do you like Disney’s Lion King? I liked it but never really loved it. This book initially reminded me much of Lion King, mainly because the appearance of the lions. But be warned that it is nothing like Disney’s. And I will stop talking about how the two compare, because they’re nothing like each other. There are several adult themes in Pride of Baghdad, the conversations are deeper, and some scenes are quite gruesome.

The art is stunning. I have never seen so much orange colour used in one book. Almost everything is gradient of orange, and it’s brilliant. I loved it to bits. The lions look so real, yet ooze human expressions. Definitely better than the cartoony Lion King. (argh I’m sorry for another comparison)

pride of baghdad 01

Since the story is so short, there’s really no time to go in-depth on anything, but the bittersweet journey was enough to make an impression. And I loved to learn little facts, like how lioness is the one that does the hunting, not the male lion. The four lions have their own distinct personality (one male, two females, and one cub). The competition between the two lionesses are well done, one is young and yearns for freedom, while the other one is older, one-eye-blind, and had enough of the wild.

I asked hubby to return the book to the library, he flipped a little bit, then sat to finish it until the end. It’s a lovely graphic novel and we both loved it. I’m so tempted to give this 5 stars, to show how impressed I was with it and I think I will. Really, would you think that a graphic novel about lions could be that good? I was skeptical, but proven wrong.

pride of baghdad 02

Thanks to Michael Kindness of Books on the Nightstand who first introduced me to this graphic novel (he talked about it in BOTNS podcast episode 3). I wouldn’t have picked it up if not for him!

5 stars
2006, 136 pp

2006 IGN Best Original Graphic Novel

Graphic Novels 2010 (book #5), Once Upon a Time IV (book #2), Book Awards IV (book #8)

Also reviewed by
Loved it! Shelf Love | Adventures in Reading | avidbookreader
Didn’t. epiBloguer

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

You know that you’ve finished a great book when after turning the last page, you’re still thinking about the characters for days, wondering how they are, if they’re okay, as if they live in the parallel universe, breathing and going through their daily life at this moment. You would ponder about the memories that have passed, their sadness and happiness. That’s what happened to me with A Fine Balance.

A Fine Balance is vast yet personal. It is about India the country and about its people. After spending weeks with the book, I feel like I almost know India, know the people, the roads, the food, understand their jokes and misery. The book has a lot of characters, with the four main ones: a widow, a student, two tailors (uncle and nephew), and a cast of incredible side characters: beggars, beggar-master, hair-collector, rent-collector, monkey-man. There are so many characters, all unique and memorable, with their own little story, how everything comes to be, how they survive life.

I was quite surprised to find how India is in a lot of ways similar to Indonesia. The chaotic nature of the nation, the corrupt Government, extreme poverty, survival techniques, unbalance of power, massive gap between the rich and the poor, we even share a few similar words.

There are also obvious differences, for example the caste system and the beggaring culture. India is often identified with its odd organized ways to produce beggars, by mutilating body parts. I’m really curious about the origin of that, because we don’t have anything like that in Indonesia, even though poverty is as rampant. The fights between different religions are easy to understand, as we have similar calamity in Indonesia. It seems that human always find reasons to blame and attack those who are different than ourselves, be it religion, race, or tribe.rohinton mistry

“You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.” ~ p231

There are a couple of references about ‘a fine balance between hope and despair’, and I honestly didn’t get it until I finished the book. How true that you need a fine balance of hope and despair to live. When despair is too much, everything will topple over, be it a nation or an individual person.

One of the things I loved most was nothing is dramatized. Even the most horrifying parts are written in only a couple of sentences or paragraphs. It’s like Mistry is trying to emphasize that they’re facts. That it happens. It’s nothing like soap-opera. It’s not a made-up drama. And because of that I didn’t experience explosions of emotion, just deep long lingering sorrow at all the misfortunes and anger at all the unfairness.

A Fine Balance impressed me immensely. I closed the book with a big sigh of sadness and happiness. Sadness for it had to end and I had to part with the characters, and it might be a long while before I find any book like this ever again. Happiness for it has touched me very deeply and I feel very lucky to get a chance to be taken on such an amazing journey.

Deep down I wish that someday there will come an author who is able to write about Indonesia as great as Rohinton Mistry did for India. Many voices need to be heard, many tales deserve to be told. If I were to meet Mistry one day, I would say, thank you, thank you, for writing this wonderful book.

5 stars
1996, 614 pp

A Fine Balance is Jackie’s Best Book Ever. Have you read it? Have you read other books by Rohinton Mistry? Would you recommend them?

More Favorite Quotes

“Independence came at a high price: a debt with a payment schedule of hurt and regret.” ~ Dina, p473

First line
The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed.

1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Overall Best Book
1995 Giller Prize
Shortlisted for 1996 Booker Prize

Book Awards IV (book #7), 1001 Books (book #31)

Also reviewed by
Farm Lane Books Blog
| Arukiyomi | Lotus Reads | Books and Cooks | Vulpes Libris | Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic | Fluttering Butterflies

Jackie’s Best Books Ever

I mentioned my plan at the beginning of the year to ask some book bloggers who read A LOT for their best books ever, then I choose one from their list to read. The idea is for them to do the filtering. Hah! My guinea pig is Jackie of Farm Lane Books Blog.

Jackie is one of the bloggers who reads really fast, a lot of them award winning books, like how I like my books to be. Her reviews are brave and concise. She’s not worried to say she doesn’t like a book, Booker prize winner or not. I sometimes wish I could write my review as concise as her, but alas, I read slow so I like to ponder on one book for a while and write down almost all my thoughts. If I read as fast as her, my reviews would probably be a lot shorter too!

Jackie compiled her list of favourite books last year with the total of 16 books. They are in order so here’s the first 5:

A Fine BalanceBlindnessFingersmithIngenious PainDuncton Wood

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Blindness – Jose Saramago
Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
Ingenious Pain – Andrew Miller
Duncton Wood – William Horwood

I had not read any of them! Have you?

I was especially surprised to see Ingenious Pain and Duncton Wood as I had never heard of them prior. And Duncton Wood is about moles!

For this time around, I picked A Fine Balance. I’ve finished reading it and was very impressed. My review will be up soon.

I plan to read Blindness and Fingersmith fairly soon. What do you think of Jackie’s list? Check out the complete list for her short summary for each book.

Update 26/04/10

Silly me, I forgot to include the couple of questions answered by Jackie. It would’ve been more convincing with these.

How many books do you read per year in average? (rough estimate)

I read 144 in 2009, but probably only about 70 a year before that.

How many books do you think you have read in your lifetime? (possibly very rough estimate)

50 *20 = 1000 Assuming I only started reading adult books at 11 and I know I didn’t read that many fiction books when I was at university.

Impressive numbers, no? Thanks again Jackie, for playing along!

The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change by Kij Johnson (Short) and Misc

Do you also find it ironic that the super long title of this post is followed by ‘short’?

Kij JohnsonThe evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change is a short story by Kij Johnson, which I picked out of Nymeth‘s favorite short stories (check her sidebar).

Knowing that it’s about dogs, I thought I could well connect with it, because I’m nothing but fond of dogs. My family kept dogs since I was small. My brothers and I even picked up stray puppies as kids and kept them. We weren’t the types of kids that get excited temporarily then forget to take care of the animals. We were good loving kind-hearted kids that really cared (even though the puppies died eventually because our incompetence..)

In this short story there’s an unexplainable event that makes the dogs able to talk. And that scares people off. To the point that the dogs get kicked out of their lovely homes and most are stranded in parks all around the city. Linna is different. She feels for these dogs and she listens to their stories.

It’s not that I didn’t like the story. I liked how unique it was. But I finished it with the thought “and what’s the point?” I was never sure whether the dogs story is allegory to something deeper, or just story about dogs period.

4 stars

The story is available online at Kij Johnson website. Read it online.

It won a couple of awards:
Final ballot, 2007: World Fantasy awards and Nebula awards.
Nominee, 2007: Hugo awards and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.

I did finish two more short stories from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, but I’m still thinking if I should post them after I finish the collection or not, because unlike my usual style to pluck a short story here and there, I feel like finishing the entire collection this time.

If you haven’t heard, Claire at Paperback Reader is hosting Angela Carter month this April. We’re halfway through, but if you read even a tiny bit faster than me then you still have plenty of time!


And because the snake was so popular, I feel the urge to share more. And this time it’s all about the crocs!

Crocodile - Cairns

Look at how high it can go!

Do you know that crocodile’s jaw is even stronger than shark? (And Australia has both in abundance…)

Crocodiles - Cairns

Crocodiles Overload

This is crocodile farm. So they’ll be send away for their skin and meat.

Crocodile Sign - Cairns

We could see the crocodile warning signs everywhere near water. Including the sea!

To balance all the nastiness, here’s baby ducks for you. (Taken at Sydney Easter Show.)

Baby Ducks

Hope they brighten your day!

Did Someone Just Come Back?

I don’t know if you noticed, but I quietly took a blogging break last week. Went to sunny Cairns, driving through rainforest and flood, snorkeling, scuba diving, white water rafting–almost drowning in rapid creek, beaching, sunbathing, facing crocodiles and snakes, and just generally trying to do things I can’t do behind an office desk.

I trust you’re all doing fine with me not filling up your reader. Usual blogging activity will resume soon, after I catch up with everything. (Just when I thought I was about to get there…)

Just so you don’t think I’m lying:

Actual snake used in photo

Bracing self to jump headfirst into the swimming hole, hoping no croc was watching

Thanks for all the visits and comments. I’m going to reply them in the next couple of days.


Short Saturday: Chicxulub by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Oh how do I begin? Chicxulub is such a simple story. A man and his wife has the phone ring one night. Their daughter has been in an accident. Everything in the story is like a thunderstorm, sweeping me, like a meteor, hitting with resonating impact. Like Chicxulub, an asteroid that collided with the earth 65 millions years ago and is believed to wipe out the Dinosaurs. Yes that’s what Chicxulub is. For some reason prior to reading I thought Chicxulub was in the same family as Cthulhu

For such a simple story, I could not put it down. I know, you’re thinking “Why put it down, it’s only a short story, you can finish it in one sitting”. But not me, I put down short story and I don’t read anything in a single sitting. This time I walked from my station to my bus stop reading, then from my bus stop to my office, reading, while walking, with runny nose, because I get runny nose when I force myself not to cry. The tears run into my nose.

I was so surprised of how the story shook me so. I wasn’t ready for such an emotional piece. I was going into the story thinking it might be fantasy. How it got to me I don’t really know. I read a short by Raymond Carver a while back with a rather similar plot: husband and wife has their kid involved in an accident (titled A Small, Good Thing), and it wasn’t even close in giving me the same level of emotional impact. Boyle’s writing just got to me. Electrifying I say. Or could it be because the story is interleaved with comets and asteroids? (I’ll let you find out how it is so yourself).

This is my first T. C. Boyle and I would love to read more. But half of me worries that nothing else of his works will be as good. That’s what I thought every time I finished a fantastic mind-blowingly good book or short story. Nothing else will ever be as good. This is it.” I would slump to my seat with overwhelming sadness.

And yet I find more. Not very often. But I do.

Ah.. such is the journey of a reader.

5 stars

Chicxulub was published by The New Yorker in 2004. You can read it online.

It is indirectly recommended by Nymeth @ things mean a lot (check out her sidebar). It has also got raving reviews from The Book Mine Set, Lakeside Musing, and Teddy Rose.

Short Saturday is the time when I talk about awesome or not so awesome short stories I read during the week(s). Join me in my journey? Michelle does.

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