The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter



BLURB: “From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories”

REVIEW: I first read Angela Carter’s collection of twisted fairy tales last year for my A-levels, and it remains one of my favourite books to date. As the book is comprised of several short stories, in this review I will focus on commentating upon two of them – ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (as it’s the title story), and ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ (as this is my favourite in the collection). 
‘The Bloody Chamber’ is based on the fairy tale of ‘Bluebeard’ by Charles Perrault, but Carter gives the story a sinister twist of her own, ensuring that the reader gets chills upon reading about the sadistic Marquis and his psychological torment of his young bride. The narrator of the tale, a young girl who remains nameless, does sometimes cause the reader to want to scream in frustration over her naivety; but, ultimately, she is extremely relatable. Like all young girls wishing for love and adventure, she is hopeful, delusional and full of a mixture of excitement and fear that any female, no matter their age, would recognise as something they once possessed. The suspense is constructed and crafted beautifully, right up to the moment when the bride discovers the bloody chamber itself, in which the Marquis keeps the corpses of his previous wives. The story moves quickly from there on, and what I love most about this tale is the strong feminist message that the ending brings – the bride is saved not by her male lover, but by her strong and determined mother, in order to illustrate not only the strength of the maternal bond, but also the strength of womankind.

‘The Lady of the House of Love’ is my favourite of the stories in this collection, in which I discovered my favourite quote of all time – “(And could love free me from the shadows? Can a caged bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?). The desperate loneliness of the Lady, a vampire whose maid lures victims to her home for her to consume, is relieved with the arrival of a young French soldier. He is the first to recognise not only the Lady’s tempting beauty but also her vulnerability and loneliness, and it is this that leads the Lady to finally gain what she has so long been longing for – death. The death of the Lady ensures that she no longer has to be the predator to men and prey to her curse, and this freedom that makes the story so beautiful and moving. This tale is reminiscent of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and the literary influences that Carter has taken from writers like Dickens are clearly noticeable in the story – she still, however, manages to make the story her own.

I enjoyed the majority of the stories in this collection – other favourites include ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ and ‘Wolf-Alice’, though stories like ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ appeal to me much less. Despite some of the stories lacking the magic of the rest of the collection, I would still highly recommend this beautiful, fantastical and very feminist collection.


Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks



BLURB: “In 1942, Charlotte Gray, a young Scottish woman, heads for Occupied France on a dual mission – officially, to run an apparently simple errand for a British special operations group and unofficially, to search for her lover, an English airman missing in action. As the people in the small town of Lavaurette prepare to meet their terrible destiny, the harrowing truth of what took place in ‘the dark years’ is finally revealed”

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Sebastian Faulks’ most famous novel, ‘Birdsong’, and as ‘Charlotte Gray’ is said to be a sequel of sorts I was greatly looking forward to reading it. I did like the book, and I read it easily enough; yet, I was disappointed. This novel lacked some of the depth and soul that made ‘Birdsong’ such a brilliant and heartbreaking read. Charlotte’s relationship with Peter Gregory, for example, happens so swiftly and contains such a lack of real emotion that it is hard to believe that she would put herself through such risks in Nazi-occupied France in order to reach him. The descriptions of Charlotte’s close brushes with the law in France were also written in such a way that the reader did not really experience the sense of danger that the character would have been feeling. I did find the topic of the book interesting, as I knew little of occupied France and the underground workings of the Vichy and other opposing organisations; the sub-plot involving the abandoned Jewish siblings, Andre and Jacob, was beautifully written and the only section in the book that truly moved me. Otherwise, however, I felt that this novel lacked the emotional substance of ‘Birdsong’, and therefore found myself much less caring of the fates of the characters and their respective endings. I would still recommend the book, however, to those interested in the Second World War and, in particular, the spy networks that existed during this period.


How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

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BLURB: “My name’s Johanna Morrigan. I’m fourteen, and I’ve just decided to kill myself. I don’t really want to die, of course! I just need to kill Johanna, and create a new girl.

It’s 1990. The Happy Mondays are on Top of the Pops, Thatcher’s almost gone and life is so awful here in Wolverhampton that something drastic has to give. So, I will build this new girl out of library books, pop music, eyeliner and feedback! Things do not go smoothly. In fact, I…

…Get nervous and talk like Elvis a lot;

…Force myself to smoke;

…Almost expire through wanting to be kissed;

…Take really rough speed;

…Fail to recognise my brother is gay!

…Become confused as to whether or not I actually have a boyfriend;

…Engage in the most inept self-harming session ever;

…Have sex with a man with a uselessly large penis;

…And drink too, too, too much, every time.

My life is basically The Bell Jar written by Adrian Mole. But in the end, like all great stories, I did it all for a girl. Me.”

REVIEW: I picked up this book completely by chance on my way back from Northampton, and I’m really quite glad I did. The book tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, a plain, bored and impoverished teenager from Wolverhampton whose life takes a dramatic upturn when she decides to reinvent herself and become Dolly Wilde; a confident, adventurous music journalist with a job that allows her to escape the confines of her large family and breathe in the bustling air of London. The reader watches Johanna’s transformation with a somewhat heavy heart, pitying her for her failed relationships and her unrequited love for musician John Kite. Despite this, the book is highly amusing, with many points that made me laugh aloud, and Johanna’s frank descriptions of her sex life were the most brutally honest and realistic stories I have ever read. Her sexual adventures lead her into relationships with increasingly worse men and increasingly unsatisfying sex, making great tales not only for the character of ‘Dolly’ to relate to her new and glamorous friends, but also for the reader to relate to. The book was written in a manner that made it quick and easy to read, and Moran’s feminist views clearly come through in several of the observations she has Johanna make, which adds a great deal of depth to the novel. Although I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, it is probably not one I would read a second time; though I do hope that Moran considers writing a sequel to take us further along in Johanna’s journalistic career.


The North Child by Edith Pattou

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Superstition says that children born facing North will travel far from home, and Rose’s mother is terrified that Rose, a North child, will face a lonely, icy death if she follows her destiny. But Rose is unaware of this, so when an enormous white bear appears and wants to take her away she agrees to his bargain. Rose travels on the bear’s back to a mysterious castle where a silent stranger appears to her night after night. Overwhelmed by curiosity, Rose does something that has terrible consequences. Now she must embark on an epic journey to save the one she loves and fulfill her true destiny.

REVIEW: This is a book I loved when I was younger, perhaps in my early teenage years, and I have often re-read it over the years when I felt the need for something safe and familiar to amuse myself with. This is a brilliant tale of adventure, love and destiny which clearly takes inspiration from ‘The Beauty and the Beast’, but is very much able to stand alone as well. The character of wild, stubborn and curious Rose is one we all instantly warm too, and the use of various points of view throughout the story allow for a broad exploration of events, leaving the reader much more satisfied at the end of the tale. Rose’s relationship with the white bear progresses both beautifully and realistically, and the fact that she does not truly realise her feelings for him until she loses him is truly heartbreaking for the reader. Rose’s journey to find the White Bear and rescue him from the Troll Queen who turned him from a handsome Prince into a giant beast has many twists and turns and introduces fascinating characters and perils that continue to grip and fascinate the reader, whether they be a child or an adult. This is the perfect escapist read, full of a fantasy and adventure that will have you longing to do some travelling of your own!


The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick


RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Eleanor of Aquitaine’s story is legendary. She is an icon who has fascinated readers for over eight hundred years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive – until now. Based on the most up-to-date research, bestselling novelist Elizabeth Chadwick brings Eleanor’s magnificent story to life, as never before. Young, vibrant, privileged, Eleanor’s future is golden as the heiress to wealthy Aquitaine. But when her beloved father dies suddenly in the summer of 1137, her childhood ends abruptly. Forced to marry the young Prince Louis of France, Eleanor is still struggling to adjust to her new role when Louis’ father dies and they become King and Queen of France. Leaving everything behind, the vivacious Eleanor must face the complex and faction-riddled French court. She is only thirteen.

REVIEW: Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of my favourite historical figures, and I have always found it difficult to find any significant amount of information on her first marriage to Louis of France – particularly in terms of historical fiction, as these usually tend to focus on her second marriage to Henry II of England and her later years. Because of this, I took great pleasure in reading this novel, which also contains lots of information on Eleanor’s younger sister Petronella, whom I knew absolutely nothing about. The novel contains the perfect mix of court intrigue, romance, sex, politics and religion; all the ingredients needed to make a great historical read. Eleanor is instantly both likeable and admirable; she is unafraid to stand up for herself, despite living in a very male-dominated society, and uses her emotions, fears and ambitions to her advantage rather than allowing them to become weaknesses. Chadwick brings her so vividly to life that the reader constantly feels as though they are fighting Eleanor’s battles with her, and suffering with her throughout her many misfortunes. For fear of giving away to much for anyone who is unaware of this period in history, I will say no more, but will just add that I am very glad that Chadwick plans to turn this into a trilogy; this is the most realistic and detailed portrayal of Eleanor I have ever had the good fortune to read and I would definitely recommend it. 



Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

10 Jamaica Inn


BLURB: “Her mother’s dying request takes Mary Yellan on a sad journey across the bleak moorland of Cornwall to reach Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. With the coachman’s warning echoing in her memory, Mary arrives at a dismal place to find Patience a changed woman, cowering from her overbearing husband, Joss Merlyn. Affected by the inn’s brooding power, Mary is thwarted in her intention to reform her aunt, and unwillingly drawn into the dark deeds of Joss and his accomplices. And, as she struggles with events beyond her control, Mary is further thrown by her feelings for a man she dare not trust…”

REVIEW: As any frequent visitors to this blog will know, I recently read Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and absolutely adored it, which led to me ordering a wide selection of her other works; including this, ‘Jamaica Inn’. I was once again amazed and impressed by du Maurier’s ability to create such tense and brooding atmospheres that serve to put the reader constantly on edge – her use of the moors in this text reminded me somewhat of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ – and also her ability to write characters that we constantly doubt and are uncertain of, even if they appear on the surface to be good and trustworthy people. The character of Joss Merlyn is truly terrifying, mainly due to how realistic his character is. The tactics of intimidation and threat he uses are ones we commonly know of and see in society today and this makes us even more fearful of his intentions towards Mary, whom the reader quickly grows attached to due to her courageous and spirited nature. Her relationship with Jem Merlyn, the younger brother of her tormentor, is beautifully developed and we truly feel Mary’s confusion and reluctance as her feelings for him to grow. Just like in ‘Rebecca’, the twist at the end of the book is extremely shocking and, although I had suspected a part of it, still good enough to have me on the edge of my seat. I am sure I will soon be writing many more favourable reviews of Daphne du Maurier’s other works.