I have heard of Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ before – as an interesting retelling of popular fairytales and legends – but hadn’t got around to reading it. When the book club I am part of, decided to read it this month, I was quite excited. I finished reading it yesterday and here is what I think.
‘The Bloody Chamber’ is a collection of ten stories. All of them are retellings of (probably) popular fairytales, folktales and legends. I could recognize ‘The Beauty and the Beast’ in a couple of stories and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in a couple of stories. ‘Bluebeard’ is also there and there is a vampire story as well.
The first story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ gives the name to the book and is a retelling of ‘Bluebeard’. It is about a young girl who marries a strange count and goes to live in his castle. Her husband gives her the keys to all the rooms in the castle, and tells her that she can explore all the rooms but one. Of course, that forbidden room is what grabs our imagination and that of our heroine’s. What happens when she decides to explore that room and what horrible secrets she finds there and the aftermath of her discovery form the rest of the story. This was my most favourite story in the book. At forty five pages, it was the longest story in the book and had enough room for wonderful descriptions, beautiful prose, character development, plot twists and a thrilling ending. The story had references to Huysmans’s ‘La-Bas’ and Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ which made me like it even more. My favourite character in the story was the heroine’s mother whom the heroine describes like this – “My eagle-featured, indomitable mother; what other student at the Conservatoire could boast that her mother had outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand and all before she was as old as I?” Though the heroine’s mother appears in only a couple of scenes in the story, she is a really cool character. The last scene in the story where the heroine’s mother rides a horse furiously through a storm, clasping her gun, desperate to save her daughter, is one of my favourite scenes in the story.
The other stories I liked in the book were ‘Puss-in-Boots’ and ‘The Lady of the House of Love’. ‘Puss-in-Boots’ had my favourite last paragraph out of all the stories in the book – “So may all your wives, if you need them, be rich and pretty; and all your husbands, if you want them, be young and virile; and all your cats as wily, perspicacious and resourceful as Puss-in-Boots”. I liked Puss and his girlfriend cat Tabs more than the main characters. ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ is a vampire story, but in which the vampire doesn’t like being a vampire and killing people but she can’t help it, and then one day a young man enters the vampire’s castle and the vampire falls in love with him. ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ had some of my favourite passages.
The other stories were interesting retellings. There were two stories which were retellings of ‘The Beauty and the Beast’ – ‘The Courtship of Mr.Lyon’ and ‘The Tiger’s Bride’. The first one had the traditional ending while the second one inverted the ending and made us look at things with new eyes. ‘The Werewolf’ and ‘The Company of Wolves’ were retellings of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ but again they had different endings and surprises and made us look at this traditional fairytale in new ways.
I found ‘The Bloody Chamber’ quite interesting. I wouldn’t say that I loved it, but I liked very much some of the stories. Angela Carter’s prose is beautiful and lush and is a pleasure to read. The cover and inside flaps of the edition I read had illustrations by tattoo artist Jen Munford which enrich the reading experience. And the fact that I liked the longest story the best, might mean that I might like one of Carter’s novels more.
I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.
…that castle, at home neither on the land nor on the water, a mysterious amphibious place, contravening the materiality of both earth and the waves, with the melancholy of a mermaiden who perches on her rock and waits, endlessly, for a lover who had drowned far away, long ago. That lovely, sad, sea-siren of a place! (from ‘The Bloody Chamber’)
my spite was sharp as broken glass. (from ‘The Tiger’s Bride’)
She is so beautiful she is unnatural; her beauty is an abnormality, a deformity, for none of her features exhibit any of those touching imperfections that reconcile us to the imperfection of the human condition. Her beauty is a symptom of her disorder, of her soullessness. (from ‘The Lady of the House of Love’)
To ride the bicycle is in itself some protection against superstitious fears, since the bicycle is the product of pure reason applied to motion. Geometry at the service of man! Give me two spheres and a straight line and I will show you how far I can take them. Voltaire himself might have invented the bicycle, since it contributes so much to man’s welfare and nothing at all to his bane. Beneficial to the health, it emits no harmful fumes and permits only the most decorous speeds. How can a bicycle ever be an implement of harm? (from ‘The Lady of the House of Love’)
Like the wild beasts, she lives without a future. She inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair. (from ‘Wolf-Alice’)
Have you read Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’? What do you think about it?