Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sara's Library: The Bloody Chamber

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Original publication: Gollancz 1979
This edition: Penguin Books 1990

As a fan of both fairy tales and Gothic literature, this had been on my to-read list for awhile.  I finally read it back in October, as part of my month of Gothic horror, but somehow never got around to writing about it.  Were this just a piece of mindless fluff, I suppose I wouldn't bother, but writing of this caliber deserves to be properly reviewed, even if it comes months after the fact.

Being a collection of ten short stories, I don't intend to write about every story's merits and flaws, but rather the collection as a whole.  However, I did have a few favorites, as was to be expected.

Overall, this was a phenomenal collection with decadently rich, descriptive writing throughout.  Despite its short length, this is the kind of book one savors.  I truly enjoyed the subversion of the "damsel in distress" in a number of these stories, and while this has become common in mainstream media, even to the point of being touched upon in Disney films and serial dramas, Ms. Carter was one of the first to do it and one of the best.  I can't really think of any complaints I had, aside from a minor quip about repeated stories (two "Beauty and the Beast", three "Red Riding Hood.")  But, given that most of these stories were published elsewhere before being collected, it's easily forgivable.

The novellette from which this collection derives its name is one of my top tales, primarily because its story is the most fully realized.  A retelling of "Bluebeard," here the protagonist is a young conservatory student wed to an older, wealthy man with sexual tastes akin to that of the romantic interest in one of the most poorly written bestsellers of all time.  Rather than bombard the audience with tacky sex scenes, Ms. Carter alludes to the acts in sensual prose.  Being a "Bluebeard" tale, the husband leaves on business, forbidding the girl to enter one chamber in particular, where she discovers the extent of his sadism.

While the girl remains a damsel in distress in this tale, it's worth noting that she's not saved by a man (though a blind piano tuner does gallantly remain with her through her peril), but her mother.  This is in keeping with the familiar saviors in the original tale (her brothers), while giving the story a feminist perspective.

My other particular favorite is "The Tiger's Bride," which is an inspired retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," where the daughter is gambled away in a game of cards.  While I liked the other animal husband tale in the book, I felt this one stood out more because of its reversed ending.

Whether read as a whole, or in part, I cannot recommend this collection enough to any fans of gothic literature or fairy tales.  I will definitely be reading Ms. Carter's novels at some point!

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