Review: Wise Children, Angela Carter

Claire of Paperback Reader has selected April as the month to make everybody read Angela Carter, her favorite ever author.  Her enthusiasm is contagious!  And so even though I got tired of Angela Carter’s fairy tales when I tried to read The Bloody Chamber (I can’t be doing with too many short stories at once), and even though I gave up on Nights at the Circus a while ago (it fell due and I was reading other books), I decided to try again.  I am the master of trying again.

By the way, I do not like it that “master of X” is gender-specific and does not translate across gender lines.  “Mistress of trying again” sounds like Trying Again and I are meeting in seedy motels on weekends when Trying Again’s wife is visiting her family.  Particularly when I have just finished reading a book that is all about convoluted sexual relationships.

Wise Children is about twins Nora and Dora Chance, the illegitimate daughters of Shakespearean actor Melchior Hazard.  As the their father’s 100th birthday party dawns, Dora remembers her past with Nora, their early days as dancers in pantos and variety shows, their father’s mistresses and wives and children, their own affairs, the events that took them from London to Hollywood and back again.  Many are the twins and much is the confusing and blurry implication of incest here and incest there, exactly blurrily enough implied so as not to bother me.

I think that Angela Carter is like what I imagine marzipan to be like, or maybe this particular sort of chocolate mint cake my father has: delicious and rich but you maybe wouldn’t want a massive lot of it at once.  I’m excited to read The Magic Toyshop, but between then and now I want to read several other books that have a completely different flavor.  (Jacqueline Woodson, Maggie O’Farrell, Ysabeau Wilce, A.S. Byatt, Ysabeau Wilce, would have been Martha Southgate and Bob Woodward too but the downtown library was closed.)  That said, I loved Angela Carter’s writing.  I loved her depiction of London, and I loved the way she left some things to the reader’s imagination.

In addition to having sentences too utterly plummy for words, Wise Children has an unbelievable number of characters.  I sometimes had difficulty in keeping track of all the characters, which bothered me a bit until the end.  At the end, everything came together most satisfyingly!  Y’all know how I love endings where all the bits come together.

This is my first Angela Carter novel.  I am looking forward to reading more (but not immediately).  And I did actually finish it during Angela Carter April, only I was slow about writing a review.  That is because I was finishing the Company novels.  Had to finish ’em.  Wanted the cyborgs to bring down the Company.

Other reviews:

Bibliofreak
Steph and Tony Investigate!

Let me know if I missed yours!

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17 thoughts on “Review: Wise Children, Angela Carter

  1. You’re so funny, Mistress, I mean Master of Trying Again 🙂

    While I’ve only enjoyed The Bloody Chamber and a handful of fairy tales from a Virago collection that Angela Carter edited, I did have trouble with Nights at the Circus as I kept getting distracted by other reads. Which is not a good thing. Carter needs time to be savored, at least for me. Which means I won’t be reading Nights at the Circus soon as I’m too busy these days 🙂

    • Yes, that’s exactly right. When I’m reading Angela Carter, I have to give myself permission to take some time and savor her. I cannot be dashing through five pages at a time while cleaning my teeth. When I have some more spare time in hour-long increments AT LEAST, I’ll read another of Carter’s books.

  2. Hm… well, this makes me want to give Angela Carter a try. Bookblog Universe, if I am only going to read ONE Angela Carter novel, WHICH SHOULD IT BE?

  3. Wonderful review, Jenny. I feel like you did: very satisfied after a very rich feast of a novel, and eager for more in the future… but not before some palate cleansers in between.

    • Palate cleansers, yes! There are a number of authors I feel this way about: Someone like Diana Wynne Jones, I can read five of her books in a row; but authors like Salman Rushdie and Mary Renault, I have to have space in between their books.

  4. Y’know, marzipan is a *perfect* analogy for Carter; I love it! Even in my enthusiasm I couldn’t overdose on rereading all of Carter’s works at once … I’m actually looking forward to a little comfort break of Persephone books this coming week after being immersed in Carter’s rich prose and ideology.

    Your opener is so infectious and I am thrilled that I “made” people read Carter last month!

    As for Mumsy’s question … I’d say this one, Wise Children.

    • Oh good! I was concerned that you might think it was an unfair metaphor, and maybe your favorite thing was to read Angela Carter’s books all in a row back to back every year. Also, it’s good to know that an unequivocal fan of her work can still need a break between books. It gives me hope that she will become a favorite of mine too!

  5. Jen? Do books capture the feeling of London often? Do they need to, to make you london-sick, or is it just the idea of london that does it? And if it’s the idea, do you feel worse or better if the book does capture the feel perfectly?

    ….I’m not too crazy, I just need thoughts to think. It’s examtime. I just wrote an epitaph for a duck (I’m really sad, the mommy duck is gone from her nest which was so neatly situated in the middle of a tree, and the eggs are cracked), so clearly my brain is going.

    • London has changed so much over the years, and I only know it for such a small segment of its history, and I only know the bits of it that I know; and for those reasons I never think, This author’s just got it completely wrong! There’s no one “London feeling” that writers are hitting or missing; it’s more like they’re all constantly writing pieces of an incomprehensibly enormous London puzzle.

      But I do like it when they refer to things and places with which I’m familiar. Like when I read Neverwhere now, I like it that Richard comes from the same London I’ve been to. He’s indignant because Earls Court isn’t on the Central Line, and yes! Indeed! Earls Court truly is NOT on the Central Line! It’s on Piccadilly and District!

  6. My library has no early Carter, so I am stuck between compulsions: reading Carter, and reading authors’ early work first.

    Marzipan is wonderful. Maybe the English kind has too much sugar. Or maybe Rumer Godden was used to getting it on sticky cakes and things, where it was all mixed up with oversweetened chocolate icing. Marzipan is best by itself.

    Good marzipan tastes like good Jordan Almonds, only it doesn’t crack your teeth. It has the texture of stiff cookie dough.

    Waa. I want some. And some early Angela Carter to go with it!

    • Or maybe Rumer Godden had a bad experience with marzipan and went off it for life. She named an odious character after it. A really very wicked character.

      I’d say, forget reading early work first! Give Carter a try! Or can you ILL her? General consensus seems to be that one should not be shy about using ILL to get books one wants. 😛

      • I feel like Obi-Wan Kenobi: “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” :b

        (Testing out the use of b instead of p for a sticking-out-tongue smiley. I think it still works!)

  7. Pingback: “She will never have the chance to shock us at 70.” | Paperback Reader

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