I 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.
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.
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!
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
1979, 149 pp
1979 Cheltenham Prize for Literature