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Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Stories Paperback – 11 Jul 1996
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"A fine, fierce, incandescent talent" (Scotland on Sunday)
"Burning Your Boats brings together her four volumes of short fiction...They testify to Carter's range, daring and her invention. An important book" (Irish Times)
"A writer cultured in every sense of the word, whose syntax is ever artful, whose vocabulary is zestfully arcane, whose erudition manifests itself in her work in a shimmering play of parody and illusion. She was one of the century's best writers, and her stories are among her finest works" (Sunday Times)
"This is the voice the young generation are flocking to read and study, and these marvellous collected stories wonderfully explain why no pigeon-hole could ever contain her creator. When you read all the stories collected together, a sense of joy erupts that such writing can exist" (Daily Telegraph)
"World-class stories, woven from their author's high humour, glittering imagination, vital erudition and warm intelligence" (Independent)
The essential collection of short stories by a daring, joyful writerSee all Product description
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When Carter is good, her stories transcend their fairy tale roots like dreams with hidden meanings. When Carter is bad, your mind drifts away from every sentence and all you can think of is skipping to the next tale
But through it all the feeling of familiarity is there, not because we have heard the tale or seen the show before, but because it is our own psyche which is being rummaged through, its murkiest corners revealed in the light of Carter's brilliance.
Burning Your Boats is the first in a series to be published of the collected works of Carter and it gathers together her four published short story collections, along with early stories and uncollected works.
She always claimed that what she wrote were not short stories but tales. "The tale does not log everyday experience, as the short story does," she said, in the afterword to `Fireworks', her first collection. "It interprets everyday experience through a system of imagery derived from subterranean areas behind everyday experience." Many of the stories in that collection were set in Japan, a country she "ran away to," in 1969, and where she "learnt what it is to be a woman and became radicalised."
In `Journey to the Heart of the Forest', a 13-year-old brother and sister find carnivorous water-lilies which bite, tree trunks covered in milk-dispensing breasts and an apple tree with fruit so juicy that the girl has to "extend a long, crimson, newly sensual tongue to lick her lips," for the knowledge the tree imparts is "the hitherto unguessed at, unknowable, inexpressible vistas of love." And incestuous love, at that.
Carter was not just interested in the moral or psychological function of fairy tales but also in the way they conveyed information about the material lives of those who invented and retold them: "Fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labour created our world," she said, in her introduction to The Virago Book of Fairytales.
In "The Bloody Chamber' she insists that such tales are not mere repositories for dominant cultural assumptions but metaphors for the deepest sexual dangers and desires. For this and her staking out of the taboo, she was labelled politically correct by some, dismissed as cultish and marginal by others. But many who looked askance while she was alive came to praise her when she died three years ago.
For to attach the PC catchall to as wayward and wicked a writer as Carter is, of course, ridiculous. As for marginality, she once said: "The tale has not been dealt with kindly by literati, and is it any wonder? Let us keep the unconscious in a suitcase." She is now the most studied 20th century writer in British universities, a development which her friend Salman Rushdie in his introduction describes as "a victory over the mainstream she would have enjoyed."
What is unusual about Burning Your Boats, is the lack of a sense of development. It seems Carter's gift emerged almost fully formed. `A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home', begins: "When I was adolescent, my mother taught me a charm, gave me a talisman, handed me the key of the world." The mother's gift to her shy son? When awed by people, imagine them on the lavatory for "the bowels are great levellers." At the end of the story he turns the same question on her with the result that "she crashed forward on to the carpet and lay there, a tree felled," and he "vanished, laughing into the night."
Here already are her love of gothic imagery and ideas, her preoccupation with language, her mingling of high culture with low flesh. And from start to finish her concerns remain the same: violence, magic, love, the frailty of the flesh, the strength of the spirit. Each successive volume of stories in Burning Your Boats demonstrates not so much an author extending her range as a wild imagination giving form to itself. It's like watching a high diver perform one virtuoso display after another, using the same spins and twists to dazzling new effect.
For that reason, it is not a book which you can read from beginning to end without succumbing to imaginative vertigo. Neither is it one you dip into, in the usual sense. But take a periodic plunge with her into deep, dark Cartesian waters and witness your imagination emerge clutching pearls of "hitherto unguessed at," richness.
Early Work, 1962-6
- The Man Who loved a Double Bass
A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home
A Victorian Fable (with Glossary)
Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces
- 9 short stories
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, 1979
- All 10 short stories
Black Venus, 1985
- All 8 stories
American Ghosts and Old World Wonders
- All 9 stories
Uncollected Stories, 1970-81
Appendix: Afterward to Fireworks - only place this is published!