11 May 2022

Review: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter book cover

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter sounds right up my alley. Dark and subversive versions of fairy tales and legends told in the gothic tradition? Sign me up! I was so confident I would fall in love with this collection of short stories, I used a Christmas gift voucher to source a stunning little hardback edition back in January 2019. Since then, it's been sitting on my shelves while I enjoyed the anticipation of an automatic 5 star read within my reach. Recently I decided I was in the mood for some short stories - which doesn't happen often - and it was finally time to enjoy the collection. Sadly, I was quite disappointed.

The writing is superb, there's no doubt about that. And I'll never look at a cat or a ham bone in the same way again after this description from the Puss-In-Boots story:
"I went about my ablutions, tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats, one leg stuck in the air like a ham bone; I choose to remain silent. Love? What has my rakish master, for whom I've jumped through the window of every brothel in the city, besides haunting the virginal back garden of the convent and god knows what other goatish errands, to do with the tender passion?" Page 114 Puss-In-Boots
Saving this quote to include in my review and re-reading it again now, I'm once again stunned that this wasn't a great reading experience. I'm going to be giving this collection 3 stars, but how is that even possible with writing like this?
"It is winter and cold weather. In this region of mountain and forest, there is now nothing for the wolves to eat. Goats and sheep are locked up in the byre, the deer departed for the remaining pasturage on the southern slopes - wolves grow lean and famished. There is so little flesh on them that you could count the starveling ribs through their pelts, if they gave you time before they pounced. Those slavering jaws; the lolling tongue; the rime of saliva on the grizzled chops - of all the teeming perils of the night and the forest, ghosts, hobgoblins, ogres that grill babies upon gridirons, witches that fatten their captives in cages for cannibal tables, the wolf is worst for he cannot listen to reason." Page 186 The Company of Wolves
As you can see, Carter's writing is thought provoking and often made me stop to reflect. That was certainly the case when reading the last story in the collection about a girl raised by wolves:
"Like the wild beasts, she lives without a future. She inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair." Page 202 Wolf-Alice
There's much to dissect in this relatively short collection, but I'm certain that many of the fairytale references went way over my head. Angela Carter died in 1992, so thankfully I don't have to worry that she'll ever see this review and disapprove of my meagre criticisms, but geez, how many hyphens and semi colons do you need? At one point I put the book down to Google 'angela carter semi colons' and was reassured to find I'm not the only reader who finds it a tad excessive.

I loved the writing style in The Bloody Chamber and even relished having to put the book down to expand my vocabulary by looking up a new-to-me word. However, I found the stories to be a little too obscure for my overall enjoyment. While reading this, I made a note that if I'd been studying it in a university setting, breaking it down and analysing the literary references cleverly contained within, I'd be writing a completely different review.

Read in isolation though, I enjoyed the language and the gothic undertones on every page, but overall, this collection never took me to the dizzying literary classic heights I had expected to reach.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!