Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reading Allowed #4

Angela Carter
“American Ghosts & Old World Wonders”

I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to books, preferring to experience as many different authors as possible rather than enthusiastically ploughing through an author’s entire oeuvre. However, I find myself drawn back to Angela Carter time and again, from Shadow Dance to The Magic Toyshop and, earlier this year, The Passion Of New Eve. In basic terms, I love Carter’s use of language, her fantastical storytelling and her ability to evoke empathy with even the most extreme of her creations. Angela Carter died in 1992 and American Ghosts & Old World Wonders is a posthumous collection published the following year. Comprising short stories, in some cases narrative sketches, American Ghosts… hints at the work that Carter would have continued to produce through the 1990s and beyond. Revisiting her fascination with fairy tales and the circus, particularly her desire to explore and tease out the fear and horror that resonates, this collection features (in)famous characters, historical (19th century patricidal killer Lizzie Borden, astronomer Tyco Brahe) alongside the fictional (Cinderella, Lewis Carroll’s Alice). The stories also display an impressive range of styles. The Merchant Of Shadows is an echo of The Passion Of New Eve’s gender challenging exploration of Hollywood, albeit told in a more traditional manner. John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore juxtaposes the Jacobean dramatist’s dialogue with that of his American film director namesake, Carter’s additional commentary creating an incredibly effective piece. Humour resonates throughout: the belching, hard drinking Sister in The Merchant Of Shadows; the ludicrous image of Archduke Randolph consummating his relationship with a fruit femme in Alice In Prague, or The Curious Room; the deliciously dark retellings of the Cinderella story in Ashputtle or The Mother’s Ghost. Yet the horror of the (real?) world constantly casts it’s shadow. Despite being arguably the most straightforward and predictable narrative, Gun For The Devil is one of my favourites. With it’s Mexican border town setting, “ a town without hope, without grace”, and a population leading a “poverty-stricken half-life”, this hell-on-earth setting is perfect for the story of two men’s pacts with the devil and the price that these deals exact. Whilst it’s eclectism may suit the convert rather than the first-time reader, American Ghosts & Old World Wonders demonstrates that even Angela Carter’s ‘works in progress’ were a cut above most contemporary writers in her field. Inspired by storytelling of the past, Angela Carter in turn has left a body of writing that similarly inspires.

Angela Carter on Wikipedia

Footnote: Bizarrely, there's a Lizzie Borden hotel which boasts "Apart from that bloody murder all those years ago, our hospitality is impeccable" (?!) Their website invites visitors to "axe us about our guided tours". If that's not enough to discourage you, have a look, just don't say that I recommended you...

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