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Bibliophile reviews The Bloody Chamber (short stories)

Angela Carter was a brilliant short story writer and often used mythological or folk tale themes in her stories. Years ago I read another collection of her stories, Fireworks: Nine profane pieces, as part of a course on modern British literature, and was captivated by her use of language and the interweaving of folk tale elements and feminist themes into a rich web full of mystery and magic realism.

The stories in this collection are all variations on folk tales, with the exception of one story which owes more to modern vampire mythology. As the title suggests, there is a take on the Bluebeard story. Other folk tales readers may recognise are “Beauty and the Beast”, “Puss-in-Boots”, "Snow White" and “Little Red Riding Hood”. Carter reworks these stories into tales about strong, smart and, for the most part, resourceful women who know how to turn men’s desires to their advantage (for the most part: the protagonist of “The Bloody Chamber” doesn’t have a clue). Most of the stories feature sexually knowing but virginal heroines who encounter predatory males whom they conquer through their sexuality. There is one inversion of this theme, where it’s the male who is the innocent and the female who is the predator.

Carter takes the folk tales and writes her own sensuous, twisted interpretations, sometimes moving them from the realm of far away and long ago into the era of cars and electricity, but always retaining the fantasy element.

These are definitely not stories for children. Sexuality, of which many original folk tales are so full and which is always so carefully edited out of folk tale collections for children, is very much in evidence here, and there are weirdly erotic scenes in some of the tales. The language itself often oozes rich sensuality, but she is also capable of writing bawdy, of which “Puss in Boots” is a good example that put me in mind of Chaucer’s pilgrims at their most vulgar.

Rating: Fine fairy tales for grown-ups. 4 stars.


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