Posts Tagged ‘Angela Carter’

Review – Wise Children by Angela Carter

Posted in Literary Fiction, Proofs on January 31st, 2011 by admin – 6 Comments

I read my first Angela Carter novel last year, The Magic Toyshop, reviewed here and it was such an enjoyable reading experience I fully intended to read Wise Children soon afterwards…well, better late than never and what a wondrous ride it was.

Wise Children is narrated by Dora Chance, twin sister to Nora and illegitimate daughter of Melchior Hazard, the renowned Shakespearean actor.  It’s the twins’ 75th birthday and Dora takes this opportunity to recount the dramatic story of their lives, born on the wrong side of the tracks in South London and into a life of musical theatre as chorus girls (aka “hoofers”) which is but a faint copy of their natural father’s “legitimate” acting career.  However, fear ye not, that won’t deter the Chance sisters from treading the boards, living life to the full and ending up having a less complicated and perhaps more enriching life than the legitimate children of Melchior.

Wise Children has copious amounts of twins and this twin theme mirrors the themes of illegitimacy versus legitimacy (not just in terms of birth), upper class and lower class, illusion and reality.  However this is most certainly not a dull social treatise but an absolute powerhouse, rollercoaster ride of a tale with Dora very firmly at the helm.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved Dora, an old gel who likes to give the impression that she doesn’t  give a damn yet she takes in the invalid ex wife of Melchior who has  been abandoned by her upper class twin daughters.  Being upper class  is obviously not contingent upon being charitable and or/loyal.

At the outset I must admit to being rather befuddled by the huge array of characters in this tragi-comedy, but a quick glance at the Dramatis Personae will keep you right and let you sink into the story.   I would hope that this list of characters now appears at the front of the novel rather than at the back where I found it, rather frustratingly, when I had read the last page!  “Design faults” aside, Dora’s story has echoes of Shakespeare, Dante, Boccacio, Greek drama alongside the more low-brow allusions to music hall performers with their lewd jokes.  Actually there is probably not that much difference between the high and the low at all – just that the likes of Dora and co tell it as it is rather than couching their words in obtuse, metaphorical language. 

There is so much exhuberance and engagement with life in Wise Children and given that it was written after Angela Carter was diagnosed with cancer, I can’t help wondering if this is her song to life, her legacy for her young child, as the closing lines state “What a joy it is to dance and sing!”.  And what a joy it is to have read this madcap, life affirming novel – if I am blessed to live into my 70s, I certainly want to adopt some of Dora’s philosphy rather than slipping into grumpy old woman mode!

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Review – The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

Posted in Literary Fiction on April 13th, 2010 by admin – 10 Comments

Format: Paperback 204 pages


Virago Press Ltd


My Rating = A

A coming of age tale with a twist – following the sudden death of her parents, our protagonist, Melanie, finds herself and her two younger siblings shunted off to stay with a fiercesome uncle and his bizarre family.  Melanie embarks on a strange voyage of self discovery, learning about love, life and lascivious relatives en route.

A seemingly simple plot conceals an elaborate, Gothic tale as our heroine, not unlike Lewis Carroll’s Alice, finds herself thrown into a weird, unfamiliar world peopled with grotesque characters.  Nothing ever seems clean in this new environment, the lines between right and wrong become increasingly blurred and the reader is forced to question previously held beliefs about good and evil.  

None of the characters are particularly appealing – Aunt Margaret is a mute who lives very much under the thumb of Uncle Philip who is not quite your archetypical kindly toymaker.  Margaret’s unkempt brothers, Francie and Finn, are almost dehumanised, also reduced to puppet like creatures manipulated  by Philip.

In stark contrast to the grimy, claustraphobic setting, Angela Carter’s writing style is beautifully lyrical.  Thus, the macabre and the grotesque seem more palatable and less disturbing to the reader.  Elements of the Gothic, Grand Guignol, Hammer Horror and a pinch of Shirley Jackson (We Have always Lived in the Castle) make this short novel a rollercoaster ride of powerful sensations – those of a nervous disposition and those who prefer neat, tidy endings would do well to stay clear!  This was my first taste of Angela Carter’s writing and I have a feeling I am going to savour the rest of her novels with equal satisfaction.

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