Saturday, January 9, 2010

From the Other Side of the River

Chris was the one who mentioned Angela Carter. I had read part of her retold fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, and he had read somewhere that he would like her as she has a streak of magical realism. That reminded me that I wanted to read more of her, so I picked Wise Children, mostly because of the cover FSG edition and because I experienced a sudden interest in the theatre. No reason why.

Wise Children, Carter’s last novel, didn’t miss a beat – the sharp, cocky, Cockney voice of Dora Chance, one half of the famous singing-and-dancing Lucky Chances, carried through the book. I never forgot who was telling this story; each word seemed individually chosen because it fit her vocabulary. I suppose that it is the writer’s responsibility, but it is rarely carried off so thoroughly and with such sport.

Dora tells the story of her and her twin, Nora, unrecognized illegitimate daughters of the great Shakespearean actor, Melchior Hazard, from their birth at the beginning of the century, to Melchior’s hundredth birthday party, a narrative that progresses chronologically, but with jags and with hints and clues which remind us that we are dealing with that tricky stuff, living memory.

Apart from referring to Shakespeare and his plays, Carter cleverly adds as much Shakespearean twists into her own story as she can: twins, a young woman drowned for love, a jealous husband who murders his wife, thankless daughters, questionable paternity, characters dressing up like each other, etc. This is never clunky, but seems a living, organic part of her loud, colorful and carnivalesque tale. And, eventually, one remembers with a surprise that streak of magical realism hidden up her sleeve. This is a masterful work – light and frivolous in tone, but is superbly worded and has playfully sharp dialogue. And, like a magic tent, it’s bigger on the inside that it seems on the outside. I look forward to more of Angela Carter’s writing.

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