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"It's every woman's tragedy that after a certain age, she looks like female impersonator."
on 20 January 2008
Originally published in 1991 and newly released in paperback, this final novel by Angela Carter (1940 - 1992) is a riotous, non-stop farce, as filled with twists, turns, travails--and twins-- as anything Shakespeare ever dreamed of. Told by Dora Chance at the age of seventy-five, the novel flashes back to the wildly iconoclastic childhood she shared with her twin sister Nora. "Chance by name. Chance by nature. We were not planned," Dora comments, explaining why they were unacknowledged and ignored by their father Melchior Hazard, the most famous Shakespearean actor of his day. ("The Hazards belonged to everyone," she declares. "They were a national treasure.")
Though their father may have been a "national treasure," he was also a self-centered and irresponsible hedonist, and Nora and Dora considered the doting Peregrine Hazard, Melchior's twin brother, their true "father." Brought up by their "Grandma" Chance, a "naturist" who claimed to be descended from the Booth family, the twins were surrounded by a bizarre assortment of "relatives," the result of their father's several marriages, which led to additional sets of Hazard twins who also adopted show business careers. As Dora describes her sexual coming-of-age, along with that of Nora, in bawdy and unapologetic language, she simultaneously describes their entry into show business as a song-and-dance team, a career that led to Hollywood.
As Dora's reminiscences continue at a manic pace--always exuberant, confident, and full of high emotion--the family's passion and love for life in all its variety become the real story here. With vibrant dialogue, the novel resembles an off-the-wall play, full of non-stop action, entrances, exits, asides, and even a Dramatis Personae, allowing the reader to keep track of all the characters and their relationships. The changing of partners and the game of "musical beds" keep the romantic aspect of the novel front and center, even as the family's dramatic contributions, some of them more significant than others, are celebrated.
Dora's story races headlong toward the climax--the 100th birthday celebration of Melchior Hazard's life, when the twins are in their mid-seventies--and the final fifty pages of the novel are as slapstick, ironic, and full of surprises as any comedy ever written. Eventually, the mysteries of their lives and the unanswered questions are resolved, not that Dora cares much. At the age of seventy-five, she believes that "A mother is always a mother, since a mother is a biological fact, whilst a father is a movable feast." Life is to be lived, without wasting a moment, and if the reader has a hard time keeping up with the high-octane action in this novel, then the reader needs to get with Dora's program. One must look, not on the bright side, but at reality. Ultimately, Carter tells us, through Dora, "Comedy is tragedy that happens to OTHER people." Mary Whipple