on 12 September 2005
This book is an absolute gem with not a single story feeling out of place or unneccessary. Every story works on its own but the overall collection is fabulous. This is a book for anyone who enjoyed traditional fairy tales as it expands on each of the traditional stories like Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast and Puss in Boots whilst the adult content ensures that it doesn't feel as if you are re-reading childhood books. This has become one of my favourite books and I would recommend it to anyone whose inner child desires a slightly more intense fairy tale.
on 25 April 2013
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is a set of short stories that parody folk-tale and legend. Let's not beat about the bush. The bloody chamber in question is the vagina and the capital of these stories is sex. But they also re-interpret and re-work fairy tale, myth and legend so that the stories take on - literally and explicitly - the adult rating they always suggested.
There are wolves that change into men, and men that change into wolves. Now there is versatility. One story, The Company Of Wolves, did in fact become a film in the 1980s, when Angela Carter's star shone bright.
The Bloody Chamber offers re-thinks on Dracula and Bluebeard. It gives new life to Little Red Riding Hood and a prurient Puss-in-Boots. Here, Beauty meets Beast and, via these time-honoured characters and themes, Angela Carter explores sexuality, both reality and myth, from a female perspective. She describes the insecurity that arises from threat and the fear engendered by anticipated violence. But she also revels in the power to control, to entice, to render powerless through overdosing on ecstasy.
A hint of torture is always near. The Bloody Chamber inhabits spaces in the human psyche that are never far from pain, always flirting with sadism. From the pain of unrequited love, right through to physical mutilation, the whole spectrum of torture appears to lie just beyond the pain of love. The boundary is often blurred in these stories and some characters meet decidedly sticky ends.
But Angela Carter avoids merely gratuitous fantasy. We can all - if we have little imagination - describe women changing colour (for some reason or other), growing green scales, bursting out in fangs or claws and then sucking the life-blood from their lovers. Such fantastical scenarios soon become not only repetitive but also trite and meaningless if divorced from some rooting parallel of symbolism. In Angela Carter's work that linkage to a form of reality and experience always seems to be present. Folk tales and fairy stories persisted perhaps because of these links. Perhaps people never believed their literal truth, but their imagery did relate to some, often hidden aspects of experience or inner fear. Not all men are Bluebeards who imprison their wives in a state of undying suffering. Not all men change into werewolves and consume maidens. But then not every husband is always gentle with his wife. Not every lad approaches maidens with finesse.
Enhancing these stories is Angela Carter's very special prose. It is far from silken smooth and rarely even aspires to the transparent. On the contrary, we are presented with a veritable brocade of language, a densely-woven and complex pattern of allusion, pun and metaphor. The texture is always pithy, the sound often dissonant. As ideas clash, so does the language that Angela Carter employs to pick the fight. In places the density may even be overdone, but in general the Gothic dark does lead us up to the vaults rather than oppress with its darkness.
The style may be dated, and the original idea may be somewhat over-stated. But these stories remain beautifully written and still enthral.
on 31 January 2004
I first came about this collection of stories through the inclusion of two of its works in the Neil Jordan film, the Company of Wolves. From this, I was immediately impressed and intrigued by Carter’s style of writing. In ‘the Company of Wolves’, we saw the ingenious juxtaposition between the varying mythologies of the fairy story, with the natural-sexual awakening of the adolescent. This is the defining factor of these works. Though the stories move from place to place to explore further myths and legends, it is this one consistent thread that anchors the stories together to create a unified work. The writer creates reoccurring motifs of love, lust and sexuality that give the stories a further narrative cohesion, despite being generally fragmented in terms of characters and scope.
The unity of the book, and the sustaining of the literary atmosphere, is also created through the varied textual forms that Carter chooses to chronicle. So, for her examinations here the writer hand-picks legends that have the strongest roots in sensuality... so we have vampirism, werewolves, feral children, and jungle beasts beguiling and defiling a succession of young women in a series of deeply emotional narrative episodes. To go into any great detail about these stories would be a great injustice to readers who are yet to experience Carter’s poetic use of language and deft storytelling capabilities. Needless to say, the stories featured drip with a dense, erotic atmosphere that is occasionally overwhelming... though there is also a strong underlining of horror, tension and mystery; with the reader free to read between the lines and decode the various clues that Carter layers within her work.
The author’s real genius though, is her ability to depict the more mundane aspects of life, and enrich them beyond the realms of everyday literature into a kind of Technicolor majesty through the use of poetic prose, self-referentialism, biblical quotations and more than a hint of metaphorical imagery. She also writes her stories in a beautiful stream of conscious style that is filled with richly constructed details, which brings to life every action in a completely vivid way to further develop the evocative world that is created especially for us. It’s an audacious device, but one that works exceptionally well with this kind of material... so because of this, the continual atmosphere of gothic gloom also helps to lull the reader into an almost hypnotic state in which Carter’s words can re-develop, in order to take on newer, more subjective meanings.
This book takes us on a beautiful, shocking and often frightening journey into realms of innocence and sensuality that few literary works can equate. Carter’s talent as a storyteller and as a poet are greatly under-appreciated by the so-called people in the know (how else can you explain her lack of inclusion in the Big Read’s Top 100?), and, when viewed in the context of this book, becomes something of a sad reminder of what a great talent we’ve lost. Thankfully, this book should succeed in opening your eyes to her genius, since it brilliantly demonstrates her various creative skills mirrored within each of these separate stories.
on 13 May 2006
This book contains a number of re-tellings and re-interpretations of classic fairy-tales. Some - like 'The Bloody Chamber' (Bluebeard) or Puss-in-Boots - are directly linked to one tale, others - like the 'Lady of the House of Love' - are amalgamations of various stories (Sleeping Beauty and the vampire myth) or yet again others ('The Erl-King') seem to have nothing to do with any tale (the story has little to nothing to do with Goethe's poem of the same name).
All of them however are told in a language that shows what you can do with English. The language is sumptuous and sensuous, a feast and delight. Carter is an epicurean with words and feeds them to the reader on a silver plate. She has the knack of finding descriptions that match the mood precisely. A rare artform, now as ever.
The stories themselves are all original and often told with sly humour and innuendo. These are not fairy tales for children, but are adult camera obscuras showing a world fairy tales attempt to paint over, a world of sudden and sharp loss of innocence, a loss inevitable and predictable, but surprising and poignant nevertheless.
A must have [and if you enjoy the book, try the film 'The Company of Wolves' which is based on the story by Carter of the same name].
on 24 March 2005
Carter's re-writes of traditional European folk/fairy tales bring with them dark aspects of the human psyche that would have existed in the oral tradition but which became sanitised when written down in the 18th / 19th centuries as parables of instruction for children. In this collection Little Red Riding Hood (The Company of Wolves) is not saved by the woodcutter, but instead tames the beast by getting naked and giving vent to her awakening sexuality. Most of the stories in the collection focus on a girl on the cusp of womanhood, who steps off the path and is rewarded with the discovery of a sexuality that is not repressively phallocentric. Strong female protagonists contrast strongly with fairy tale stereotypes. Carter herself said that she was all for putting new wine in old bottles until the pressure of the new wine caused the old bottles to explode. That's about the best definition I can find for this collection of stories. Sexually provocative, gothic and sometimes very funny (Puss in Boots especially), The Bloody Chamber is a must-read book.
I tried reading one of AC's novels many years ago, but it was the wrong book for me at that time. But I thought it was time to try again - and I'm glad I did. This time I chose one of her collections of reimagined fairy tales.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories has reworkings of several classic tales - Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, and Little Red Riding Hood to name a few. Carter takes the essence of each original and creates something that is the complete antithesis of the Disneyfied versions that dominate these days. They are extremely earthy and sensual, full of blood and guts; they're very dark, yet there are moments of comedy and brightness; and they're still highly moral - but Carter plays about with the roles - her women give as good as they get!
My favourite was the Erl King - based upon the character of a woodland spirit who tempts travellers through the forest, rather than one of the classic fairy tales ...
"... On the trunk of a scarlet rowan a squirrel clung, to watch him; a cock pheasant delicately stretched his shimmering neck from a brake of thorn to peer at him. There was a goat of uncanny whiteness, gleaming like a goat of snow, who turned her mild eyes towards me and bleated softly, so that he knew I had arrived.
He smiles. He lays down his pipe, his elder bird-call. He lays upon me his irrevocable hand.
His eyes are quite green, as if from too much looking at the wood.
There are some eyes can eat you."
Maybe it was the unfamiliarity of the Erl King that really creeped me out on this one - well that and what he does to birds...
I enjoyed all of the tales in this collection with the exception of Puss in Boots. This is the one tale told not from the innocent victim's side, but from that of Mr Fixit and has a totally different feel to it. However it does break up the collection - before it come three beastly tales going from a predatory monster to a lyon, to a tiger, to Puss - all feline in feel. Then in the second half from the Erl King onwards, we are in the forest and with wolves and creatures of the night. I am definitely inspired to read more of Angela Carter's extraordinary fairy tales, and think it may be time to enjoy her novels too.
on 5 May 2008
Carter reworks traditional European folk/fairy tales here, exploring their dark and cautionary nature; her stories dig into the darkness of the pre18th/19th centuries tales, as well as mirroring the ones of that time, theres therefore many layers to what she creates, she just adds (in a successful way) to subjects that are already complex. I love how she gives preconceived stories and morals a little twist, giving it new life and making it her own and much more. Her stories are written beautifully, they just flow, catching you up in a wonderfully dark and sensual rhythm that you loose your self in. I suppose what Carter does is make what is simple in the children's fables complicated. In the Bloody Chamber the girl does the sensible thing and it very nearly gets her killed, the `right' choice opens up a new and dangerous world of sex and death. Her characters contrast strongly with fairy tale stereotypes, giving women power in their desires and nature.
In terms of what she looks at: vampires, werewolves, feral children, all are steeped in ambiguity and mystery and are things that are looked at time and time again because authors like Carter understand the potent power they hold and readers like me like to delve into the possibilities that such things hold. If you like these reworking of fairytales I would recommend looking at Marina Warner's writings and Paula Rego's art.
on 3 October 2011
I studied this book for my A levels, and at first I was not impressed. It seemed to be just fairytales with sex added to them, at times, it seemed, just in order to shock the reader. But as I read the book for the second time, and started studying it, I started to apprieciate the language and the beauty and strenght that her tales had. The fascinating was she subverted what you were expecting, how she mixed the expected and the unexpected to make a beautiful tale that left you feeling shaken and unsure.
The stories are based on a range if traditional fairy tales, from Bluebeard,to puss in boots, to several renditions of Beauty and the Beast and red riding hood. Having different versions of the same story in the book, as there is with Beauty and the Beast and Red Riding hood, is especially intresting, It shows how you can take a story and by forcusing on one element you can adapt it in many different ways.
One key theme of the book, is Nature; both outside and human nature, and how they interlink. The Lady of the House of Love, show what happens when you break your nature, when you turn against it and choose a different path, in this case for love. The Erl-King blends the boundrys of human Nature and the wild, The Erl King is almost a personification of the forest itself, wild and seemingly untameable.
Another theme is that of adolescencse and of innocence. Alot of the stories focus on the losing of innocence and the need for this in order to become strong and wise, to become and adult. The first story, the Bloody Chamber, especially, focuses strongly on the lose of innocence in many ways, through sex, betrayal of love, fear and so not only explores the lose of innocence, but also innocence itself and what it means.
A really good book, and one everyone should read wether they are studying it or not. Also extremely useful if you are studying another of Angela Carters books and want to contrast herr short stories to her novels, as they involve a very different writing style.
on 20 January 2000
The film 'The Company of Wolves' was based on one of the stories from this collection. The stories are deep, dark, witty, baroque versions of myths and fairy tales. The language is rich and sexy. What more can I say, I love these stories and have returned to them many times.
This book has been on my shelf for a while waiting to be read, but I have always found a reason to read something else instead. Recently I friend recommended independently and I remembered it. I picked it up and a few breathless hours later had finished it.
A collection of short stories that are linked thematically and have common threads that run between them, The Bloody Chamber has been described as a re-imagining of classic fairy tales with a feminist slant. But they are so much more than that. The stories throughout go back to the original purpose of fairy tales and rather than rewriting fairy tales in a modern manner Carter has returned to their original dark roots and weaved in modern concerns.
They are dark and erotic and often very disturbing. Familiar tropes are there, werewolves and hidden rooms and beauty and the beast, but there is a real sense of malicious glee in the writing. These are not the anodyne tales of our childhood, they are wild and imaginative.
Much is made of Carter's writing style, but the truth is her writing varies wildly throughout the collection, the title story is reminiscent of Poe, Company of Wolves is oblique and teasing, whereas Puss in Boots strays close to bawdy farce.
Familiar as these tales may be, they are not the fairy tales we know from our childhood. They are new ones, taking old stories as a starting point and creating something new and exciting from them.