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.