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The Bloody Chamber (thoughts)

July 22, 2008

This is the review that was supposed to appear the Sunday I was gone. But as so many people have questions about my feelings on The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, I thought I’d go ahead and publish it now! All of your questions are directly answered at the end. And there’s still lots of time for you to ask questions about any of the 50+ books I need to review. So far, I’m loving this, and I might make it a regular feature!

Unfortunately, I found the collection as a whole to be quite uneven. Some of the stories I loved, but others seemed just a little off. Perhaps eventually I just got tired of the relentless focus on the intersection of sex and death, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, while not a perfect collection, my favourite stories made it well worth the effort.

My very favourite was the title story: “The Bloody Chamber.” It’s almost novella length at forty six pages, and it’s a retelling of the Bluebeard story set in fin-de-siecle France. The tone is stylised and gothic, which I enjoyed. There is, like all the stories, an emphasis on sex. Here’s the opening lines:

I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ectasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girhood, away from the white, enclosed quietitude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage.

Now, I’m not one to point out symbolism in every little thing, but “pistons ceaselessly thrusting”? I mean, come on! Slowly but surely, Carter draws the reader into the narrator’s experience, as she sees the huge castle and learns what kind of man she’s married. Parts of it reminded me of Rebecca: the lower-class girl arriving at a huge estate, the domineering housekeeper, troubles with servants, etc. And like in Rebecca, the narrator isn’t named. Since it’s a retelling of Bluebeard, we all know what kind of husband she’s got! Here’s my favourite line of the story, related to him:

I had the brief notion that his heart, pressed flat as a flower, crimson and thin as tissue paper, lay in this file. It was a very thin one.

Isn’t that powerful imagery? And an unconvential way to say a rather trite thing. Bravo, Carter! The denouement is also just wonderful, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. ;)

My next favourite story was quite short, just three pages, and called “The Werewolf.” It’s a reinterpretation of Little Red Riding Hood and is much more folklore, rustic than the original. At three pages, it’s difficult to talk about much without giving away anything, but let’s just say Carter manages to turn the tale around and pack a powerful ending. And there’s no sex to be seen! A welcome relief. ;) Here’s the opening:

It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts.

Then there’s “The Lady of the House of Love,” my third favourite and the last one I’m going to talk about today. The Lady in question is a vampire, but an unwilling one. She spends most of her days playing with her tarot cards, laying out her fate again and again but with always the same results. Then one day, the Sun (symbol of hope, and good fortune, and happiness) appears in her reading and a young British adventurer shows up outside her door. Will she be able to control her vampire nature and have a shot at normal life? You’ll have to read to find out. Like all of the stories, the writing in this one is stylised as well. I especially liked the initial description of the lady:

Wearing an antique bridal gown, the beautiful queen of vampires sits all alone i nher dark, high house under the eyes of the portraits of her demented and atrocious ancestors, each one of whom, thorugh her, projects a baleful posthumous existence; she counts out the tarot cards, ceaselessly construing a constellation of possibilities as if the random fall of the cards on the red plush tablecloth before her could precipitate her from her chill, shuttered room into a country of perpetual summer and obliterate the perennial sadness of a girl who is both death and the maiden.

Of course, I’ve read tarot cards for six or seven years now, so as soon as an author puts them in a story, they’ve got my attention!

I’m not sure if my expectations were too high for the book as a whole, or if I should have spaced out the stories more so as not to overload on violent sex, but I can’t rave about this one the way I thought I would be. That being said, I will definitely try more Angela Carter in the future.

I see that you gave it three stars. so what bothered you or gave you pause about it? Andi I think what really bothered me is that such an in-your-face retelling style, with so much emphasis on sex and death, took a lot of the ambiguity away from the fairy tales. So while I really loved my favourite retellings, the other ones didn’t entrance me. Also, Carter used quite stylisied narrating tones throughout, different ones in different stories, and I don’t think they always worked.

As for books, I’m with Andi on Angela Carter. I love her, so I’d be curious to know why you weren’t bowled over . . . (Other Andi) Well, I think I’ve pretty much covered this one! The stories I loved bowled me over-the collection as a whole didn’t. Since you love Carter, what other books would you recommend?

Have you read any other Angela Carter? What did you think of The Bloody Chamber compared to her other books? Care I haven’t read any other Carter, but I have The Infernal Desires Machine of Doctor Hoffman on my bookshelves-it has a really pretty cover too. :)

19 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2008 11:26 am

    If you can get your hands on a copy of the movie “The Company of Wolves”, check it out. It’s based on the story from this collection. Creepy, creepy!


  2. July 22, 2008 1:28 pm

    Thank you! I’ve only read her Saints & Strangers short story collection and enjoyed a few of them very much.

  3. July 22, 2008 3:06 pm

    I second “The Company of Wolves.” I think it’s more “inspired by” than “based on”, but it’s very good.

    I’ve not read these stories in a while. I do agree with out about spacing them out. I think that’s usually best with short story collections.

  4. July 22, 2008 3:33 pm

    And I third “The Company of Wolves,” – as for works, I’ll have to ponder a bit, but I do recommend “The Tiger Bride” off the top of my head.

  5. July 22, 2008 4:56 pm

    Great review! And I certainly understand those things that gave you pause. And I’d almost forgotten about “The Lady of the House of Love!” I loved that one.

  6. July 22, 2008 9:31 pm

    I read this once. It certainly gave me the creeps- and made me uncomfortable sometimes. I don’t know if I’ll read another Angela Carter.

  7. July 23, 2008 5:16 am

    You’ve been nominated for a blog award by Shana at Literarily! Click here for more info:

  8. July 23, 2008 9:06 am

    I read her story collection Saints and Strangers a couple of years ago, and it was a sort of intense experience as well. I liked some stories more than others–lots dealing with death and sexuality. My favorite was a retelling of the Lizzie Borden story. I have this collection as well, but I think I’ll read it slowly rather than one story after another like I did last time.

  9. July 23, 2008 2:26 pm

    While I love Angela Carter I can see why her style doesn’t always work for everyone. I think my favourite story is the title one too.

    And I fourth the recommendation of the movie The Company of Wolves. It expands the story quite a bit, but she wrote the script herself so it’s still completely in her style. My favourite thing about the movie is how well it captures that dark Germanic fairy tale forest feel.

  10. July 27, 2008 12:47 am

    I really enjoyed Nights at the Circus by Carter, and I’d enjoyed The Bloody Chamber but I read it too long ago now to make a sensible comment on it. I just think Carter is a fantastic stylist. I don’t know of any other writer whose prose is quite so powerful and vibrant. You might like Nights at the Circus more because although it has a bawdy touch to it, it’s very light on the sex and death. But you can imagine how Carter takes the images of the circus and makes something amazing out of them. I’ve never been able to read any circus-based narratives since because they seem so pale and limp by comparison.

  11. July 28, 2008 10:40 am

    Phew. Not sure this would be my cup of tea. Given your world of books and book loving audience, I wanted to let you know I’m also giving away an autographed copy of inner architect written by Susan Hanshaw, which is a great book for anyone making a major career change. It can be found on my website’s blog, which I’m not going to shamelessly link in this post, but you can get there via the standard comment/link procedure.

  12. Jolyn permalink
    July 30, 2008 6:39 pm

    Have you seen this?:


  13. August 2, 2008 7:50 am

    HI Eva! Just dropping by to say hello…

  14. August 4, 2008 5:51 am

    Hi Eva. Just getting worried about you! Hope all is well, and that you’re just overly busy…but well, I’m afraid you’re not feeling well again. Hope I’m wrong about that! Miss you! You’re definitely in my thoughts!

  15. August 4, 2008 5:59 pm

    Hey Eva, we haven’t heard from you for a while. I hope all is alright and that you’re just busy reading!


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