Posts Tagged ‘Angela Carter’

I read my first Angela Carter book last year – ‘The Bloody Chamber’. I enjoyed Carter’s unconventional take on popular fairytales (the retelling of fairytales seems to be the rage today, but when Carter did that, she was probably a pioneer) and so was hoping to read one of her novels sometime. So, when Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and Delia from ‘Postcards from Asia’ announced that they were going to host Angela Carter week, I was quite thrilled (You can find more about it, here and here.). It was time to read my second Carter book. While deciding on which book to pick, I thought of three of her novels – ‘The Magic Toyshop’, ‘Nights at the Circus’ and ‘Love’. I opted to read ‘The Magic Toyshop’ because it was one of her earlier books and also the plot looked quite straightforward (I can hear you saying – “Yeah, keep thinking that. Angela Carter and straightforward simplicity – that is a total illusion. Carter’s books are always layered and complex and reveal themselves more on multiple readings.” Well, I can see that now 🙂 ) I finished reading ‘The Magic Toyshop’ yesterday. Here is what I think.

Angela Carter Week 1

Angela Carter Week 2

‘The Magic Toyshop’ is about a fifteen year old girl, Melanie. In the first scene of the story, Melanie discovers one day that she is a woman. She explores her body and her sexuality and she takes her mother’s wedding dress and puts it on while doing that. Unfortunately, after a while, when she is walking around in the garden, she discovers that she is locked out of her house wearing her mother’s wedding dress. She is too embarrassed to ring the bell and ask the housekeeper to open the door. She climbs the tree next to her window and gets into her room. In the process her mother’s wedding dress gets destroyed. When she gets up the next morning, she receives a telegram. Without even reading the contents, she knows what is in it – that her parents are dead. Melanie’s parents are away in America where her father is on a lecture tour, while she and her brother and sister are being taken care of by the housekeeper. The telegram says that her parents have died in a plane crash. Now their situation becomes difficult – the house is sold, the housekeeper finds a new job and they are sent away to live with their uncle and his family, an uncle who was always avoided by her parents. Melanie finds her uncle’s house quite old-fashioned with fewer facilities. Her aunt is dumb – she has lost her speech after she got married – and her aunt’s two younger brothers also live with her. The elder of the two is a musician and plays the violin. The younger of the two helps out her uncle in his work. Melanie’s uncle makes toys of all kinds and is very good at it. We can even say that he is an artist who loves his art. He also holds a puppet show in his studio a couple of times a year and only the family is invited to watch it. But Melanie’s uncle has a dark side – he is mean and is a bully and doesn’t care much about his family. He refuses to speak to Melanie and her siblings for a long time. In contrast, Melanie’s aunt is a very kind person and soon Melanie grows to love her. Melanie also grows to like her aunt’s brothers and the younger of the two, Finn, is attracted towards her. Melanie is uncomfortable with it in the beginning, but gets used to it after a while. The rest of the book charts the relationships between these characters, the beautiful moments they have (one of my favourite scenes in the book is the one in which Melanie spies her aunt playing the flute, her aunt’s brother Francie playing the violin and Finn dancing to the tune. The scene ends with the sentence – “And this was how the red people passed their time and amused themselves when they thought nobody was watching.”), the pall of gloom that hangs around the house when the uncle is around and the free spirit which reigns when he is not, and the surprises which get revealed at unlikely times.

The Magic Toyshop By Angela Carter

‘The Magic Toyshop’ is first and foremost a coming of age story of Melanie when she first discovers herself and grows up to become a young woman. Within this framework, Carter has also woven her own versions of fairytales. There are frequent references to Bluebeard which makes one think that the book might be Carter’s own long take on the original Bluebeard story with Melanie’s uncle being the potential Bluebeard here. There are also lots of literary and cultural references in the story which I liked very much. Some of my favourites were the references to Ronald Coleman (if you like old classic black-and-white movies you have probably seen ‘Random Harvest’ or ‘Lost Horizon’, both starring Ronald Coleman – both are wonderful), the Doric column (“She was wearing her straight grey dress and looked like a Doric column” – it made me think of the days when I read my first book on art and discovered Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns and how the Doric was the plainest of the three and so seeing Carter talking about Doric columns made me nostalgic), Coleridge’s poem on the Ancient Mariner and the Biggles books.


Angela Carter’s prose is beautiful. She doesn’t write long passages and pages filled with beauty but sprinkles beautiful sentences across the book. Some of my favourite sentences were these.


Photographs are chunks of time you can hold in your hand.

His Atlantic-coloured regard went over Melanie like a wave; she submerged in it. She would have been soaked if it had been water.

The curl of his wrist was a chord of music, perfect, resolved.

The moment was eternity, trembling like a dewdrop on a rose, endlessly about to fall.

She splashed the shreds of the absurd night out of her eyes with cold water.

The tune was finished. It did not so much reach a conclusion as slow down and dribble into silence, as though the players had got bored with the melody and let it slip through their fingers carelessly.


I enjoyed reading my first Angela Carter novel. I hope to read ‘Nights at the Circus’ and ‘Love’ someday. I will leave you with links to other reviews of the book.

Caroline (from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’)

Bina (from ‘If You Can Read This’)

Violet (from ‘Still Life With Books’)

Have you read ‘The Magic Toyshop’? What do you think about it?

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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 By Angela Carter

‘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?

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