The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber
Angela Carter

Metaphors make the world vibrant. Words come alive when a writer deftly adds them in the mix, subtly or otherwise, and somehow brings a story to life. I love metaphors. I am awed by authors who uses them well. Angela Carter is one of them.
His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.

Gee, that image will probably stay in my head for the better part of the week!

There are as many ways to rewrite beloved fairy tales as the number of angels standing on top of a pin. Did that make sense? But in that varied ideas of retelling, there's always the comparison with the known tale, justified or otherwise. So it takes a master manipulator to stretch well-known tales of old into something new, something different, something sexy, something scary and yet something truly original just the same. This is what The Bloody Chamber is all about. It's reading fairy tales in a new light.

Composed of ten renarrated stories in all, the venerable Ms. Carter managed to play with the tales and make them fit our adult mind. Not that fairy tales are meant exclusively for children, no. What I mean here is that she writes the tales with the adults in mind. I mean gee, you wouldn't exactly be reading this paragraph to your very young children, would you?
Then he kissed me. And with, this time, no reticence. He kissed me and laid his hand imperatively upon my breast, beneath the sheath of ancient lace. I stumbled on the winding stair that led to the bedroom, to the carved, gilded bed on which he had been conceived. I stammered foolishly: We've not taken luncheon yet; and, besides, it is broad daylight...

All the better to see you.

He made me put on my choker, the family heirloom of one woman who had escaped the blade. With trembling fingers, I fastened the thing about my neck. It was cold as ice and chilled me. He twined my hair into a rope and lifted it off my shoulders so that he could the better kiss the downy furrows below my ears; that made me shudder. And he kissed those blazing rubies, too. He kissed them before he kissed my mouth. Rapt, he intoned:' Of her apparel she retains/Only her sonorous jewellery.'

A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside.

To think that's not exactly the most graphic of descriptions there is in the entire book. Believe me when I say there are lots of them.

The ten stories include The Bloody Chamber, an adaptation of Bluebeard. Two takes on Beauty and the Beasts titled The Courtship of Mr. Lyon and The Tiger's Bride. Puss-in-Boots is based on Puss in Boots, hahaha. I have no idea where The Erl King is based. Sorry. The Snow Child is based on Snow White. In The Lady of the House of Love, the lead female sleeps during the day so more or less this is akin to Sleeping Beauty, as there is also a mention of that tale in this story. Two stories based on The Little Red Riding Hood titled The Werewolf, and The Company of Wolves. I also don't know where Wolf-Alice is based on. Hahaha. My apologies.

But more than the ever present theme of woman's sexuality, the tales are practically meant for the lover of fairy tales of old and seeing the other side to it. In The Bloody Chamber, there is that mother-daughter bond highlighted by Carter. In The Lady of the House of Love, the Countess defies the role left for her to play by her ancestors of old. Women as property in both The Tiger's Bride and Puss-in-Boots. Both pureness and corruption are prevalent in the stories with wolves.

But there are conventional tales as well. The Courtship of Mr. Lyon is practically a rewriting of Beauty and the Beast down to the last scene. There is a damsel in distress rescued by a dashing debonair in Puss-in-Boots.

I'm just rambling. This is a book that shouldn't be missed by those who adore fairy tales to bits.

It's dark, it's delightful, and it can be read in one sitting or savoured one story at a time. But this I guarantee; there is power in Ms. Carter's words, power that make you see these old tales differently. As powerful as her description of that choker of rubies that is "bright as arterial blood."

I mean gee, that's ultimate coolness. Writing a fairy tale and using the words arterial blood in it as a description forebodes darkness and everything else that could happen in it.

This is my ninth book for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. This won the Cheltenham Festival of Literature Award in 1979.