Friday, June 1, 2012

Fantasy: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

Publisher: Penguin
Date: 1979
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used from the Village Book Shoppe
Read: as part of the pre-college TBR cleanout
Pages: 125
Reading time: three days (only a couple stories a day so I didn't get them mixed up as much)

From the back of the book: From the lairs of the fantastical and fabular and from the domains of the unconscious's mysteries...Lie the brides in the Bloody Chamber - Hunts unwillingly the Queen of the Vampires - Slips Red Riding Hood into the arms of the Wolf - Pimps our Puss-in-Boots for his lustful master...In tales that glitter and haunt - strange nuggets from a writer whose wayward pen spills forth stylish, erotic, nightmarish jewels of prose - the old fairy stories live and breathe again, subtly altered, subtly changed.

My review: Overall, I did enjoy reading the stories in this collection, but they were not as good as I had expected. Many I found a bit confusing as to their purposes and meanings; in several cases, I had to go back to the original fairytale to see how everything fit together for the conclusion. I wished most of the stories were longer, because the first 2/3 of each story was often filled by great descriptions setting up the scene, only to be followed by a rather rushed ending that only added to my slight confusion. I also found the reasons and meanings behind the (generally non-explicit) sexual content, featuring prominently into many stories, to be too ambiguous. While there were a couple of true gems among the collection, most of the stories were only interesting intrinsically for one who is intrigued by any retellings of classic tales.

It's also possible that a lot of my confusion was due to my not being quite as familiar with the traditional tales as I thought, as well as my not having read much on others' analytical interpretations of the motifs.

Run-down of the stories:
"The Bloody Chamber" - After reading Francesca Lia Block's version of the Bluebeard tale in The Rose and the Beast, I was expecting this version to be fantastic. It started out strong - even reminded me a lot of the atmosphere of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - but the ending was way too rushed. Insta-love like never before: the (just married) girl suddenly started referring to a guy she met hours before as her 'lover.'

"The Courtship of Mr Lyon" - This was a pretty straight-forward version of "Beauty and the Beast." If you watched the Disney movie, it was pretty much the same thing, but set in a modern period and without a mob of angry villagers led by a jealous guy.

"The Tiger's Bride" - If the previous story was a straight-forward version of "Beauty and the Beast," this story was definitely not. It was my second favorite of the collection, mostly because of the twist on the classic tale that occurs at the end. But other than that, the characters' motivations and actions generally confused me.

"Puss-in-Boots" - My favorite of the stories. The rest of the book had an air of distance; this tale was gritty and real. Puss-in-Boots was, by far, the most hilarious character in the collection. He had witty, exaggerated banter that made me laugh out loud a number of times.

"The Erl-King" - A combination of the Erl-King legend and another, more well-known tale. I liked the rather feminist ending of the girl standing up for herself - but wait, did the last line just imply incest?!

"The Snow Child" - Weird, weird, weird. At about a page total, this was the shortest of the stories. Um, necrophilia? Gross. I totally missed whatever the point of the tale was.

"The Lady of the House of Love" - I also felt like I missed whatever the subtle meaning of this story was intended to be, and I'm not sure if it was meant to be just a generic vampire tale or based off of a specific fairytale motif. It was interesting to see how the story would turn out, though.

"The Werewolf" - This seemed like a pretty basic version of a northern wolves' tale, but the last line was intriguing in that I thought it implied a deeper motive of the 'little innocent girl' in trying to dispose of the wolf. I could just be reading too far into the words, though.

"The Company of Wolves" - The ending seemed unclear to me, but it was an interesting version of "Little Red Riding Hood," very different from the traditional tale in that it read more into its possible underlying sexual meaning.

"Wolf-Alice" - One of the subtle, common themes in a couple of the stories did seem to be something about the redemptive power of love, which is about all that I took away from this tale. The feral-child aspect of it was interesting, though - is there an actual fairytale based on that?

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