On Angela Carter

Well, best laid plans and all that. Last week did not go as I had intended, and was not the carefree week of soothing emptiness, perfectly suited to the reorganisation of the blog, that I had hoped for. Instead my son was down for the count with a hideous throat bug, and we had friends and family come to visit, and every day but Thursday I had to go into college to deal with students in crisis. So much for indexing! It was my birthday last Saturday, which I nearly cancelled and rescheduled for the following weekend, but in the end the menfolk rallied in time, and then Sunday was Mothering Sunday here in the UK. So, the back end of the week was very nice indeed, but not what you would call productive.

However, I was extremely encouraged by your lovely messages of support for the new look blog and will continue to work on the extra pages I’d planned. I must send out an official and heartfelt thank you to my friend Cazzi, who is a web designer and an amazing photographer and gave us a very helpful helping hand with the new template. She has become interested in photographing splashes and has some incredible images I wanted to share with you.

And to the books! I am now hugely behind in reviews, of course, but a few words on Susannah Clapp’s wonderful tribute to her friend, A Card From Angela Carter. This brief little book (I read it over the space of an hour and a half) is the sort of posthumous portrait we might all of us long for. Based on the postcards that Angela sent to Susannah over the course of their friendship, this is a lucky dip of memories and insights, brought together not because they are momentous, but because they are touching and funny and tender. But through their prism, we can catch the jewel-bright colours of Angela Carter, a writer of ‘helter-skelter hoopla prose’ who was fascinated ‘by pretenders, shams, copies and twins’ and who loved and hated in technicolour. She was a vivid and intimidating presence, but witty, charming when she wanted to be, fierce in her causes and concerns. All of this tumbled out in her narratives, which were gloriously unrestrained. When charged with seeking out opportunities for overwriting, she retorted ‘Embrace them? I would say I half-suffocate them with the enthusiasm with which I wrap my arms and legs around them.’ The critic Francis Wyndham declared, after reading one of her novels ‘There must be less to life than this.’

Angela Carter began her career as a journalist, and interrupted that work with a degree in English. She had suffered since her teenage years from anorexia, expressing a desire for control over her life, which had been dominated in its early years by possessive parents and her quiet hostility towards them. An early marriage ended when she won the Somerset Maugham award for writing, a prize that had to be spent on travel. She went to Japan, but not just for the culture: ‘I used the money to run away from my husband, actually. I’m sure Somerset Maugham would have been very pleased.’ She married again and at the age of 42 became a mother for the first time. She was always a praised writer, and one who garnered a reasonable share of media attention, but she was never acclaimed during her lifetime to the same degree as contemporaries like Martin Amis and Julian Barnes. As is so often the case, her early death pushed her up the ranks to the place she entirely merited. If you’ve read Angela Carter, you know there is no one quite like her.

What I particularly loved about this endearing portrait of her is the genuine warmth and delight that comes through the narrative. Angela Carter is not idealised – friends, after all, do know all our faults. But they also have the best anecdotes. One that summed up Carter’s strength and her joyfulness for me occurred not long after she had been diagnosed with the lung cancer that would kill her. She was on the phone to a friend when she suddenly interrupted herself to say ‘Oh, there’s someone at the door.’ And then after a pause: ‘It’s all right. I’ll let him in. He hasn’t got a scythe.’

14 thoughts on “On Angela Carter

  1. I heard this being read (abridged on Radio 4) and my impression there is confirmed by your account. All her zest and vibrancy seems to shine through and I love your comment ‘who loved and hated in technicolour’, which seems spot on. I have to say that for all my admiration of Carter as a writer and thinker, I imagine I would have been severely worried if I had had meet her!
    I like your new side bars with the book covers beautifully resplendent, but I’m not sure about the reviews index, which makes it so much easier to recall or find a review of a book that I intended to keep in mind to add to Mount TBR and drain my resources in keeping – well spending as it inevitably turns out!

  2. Sorry your week ago didn’t go as planned. Your blog looks great though and I hope you had a nice birthday and Mothering Day. I’ve read a couple of Angela Carters, a novel and one or two of her short story collections. You are right that there is no one else quite like her!

  3. Happy belated birthday! I wasn’t totally enthralled with Wise Children, but I will read The Blue Chamber (maybe this year)for sure. The Susanna Clap book looks wonderful as well. I will keep an eye out for it.

  4. My only comment on the new layout it that it is not obvious how to comment. Or am I missing something more obuious than the number 2 in the top left of the post?

    I’m somewhat ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Angela Carter despite her being – ‘In 2008, The Times ranked Carter tenth in their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945″‘
    The book sounds good – it’s gone on my TBR list.

  5. Love your makeover! I’ve been wanting to do a bit of a change for awhile now, but since I have to limit my computer time I keep prioritising other things instead. Thanks for the link to your friend’s photos: they were wonderful!

  6. Thank you for reviewing Clapp on Carter, and for reminding me of Carter’s fantastic books. I read “Nights at the Circus”, “The Magic Toyshop” and some of her short stories as a student, but would love to go back to her work as a more mature reader.

    Looking forward to your review on Toibin, as I am in fact reading the same book just now –

    ps: nice header!

  7. Happy Birthday for last week! I’m glad to hear your menfolk spoiled you. I’m also very impressed with the beautiful new look of your blog (although I liked the old one too so it was quite a shock getting here and seeing the change. I felt like I’d been away from a favourite restaurant for a week or so and they’d changed everything while I was away!)

    I’d be interested to read more on Angela Carter so I’ll add this one to the ever-growing list. I had mixed feelings about Wise Children but have been told that Nights at the Circus is a better one to read.

  8. I’m sorry about your bad week, and I do hope your son is better, that sounds miserable.

    But happy birthday! I hope that you enjoyed it and your menfolk did you proud.

    This seems such a great way to structure a biography, or memoir perhaps. I do get a bit depressed reading conventional biographies, there’s the childhood (almost always fascinating), the productive years and then you reach a certain point at which you know in most lives that the next few chapters are just going to be the trudge to the end. Anyway, I’m a great fan of Angela Carter’s and your favourable review has been enough for me to buy a copy of it. Excited!

  9. Oooh, very badly belated birthday wishes to you! And yes, the blog looks DIVINE. It reminds me of seeing the results of careful restoration work on the interior of a National Trust property, as when they clean up the tapestries and you just can’t believe the renewed vibrancy of all those colours! It’s like the Reading Room is sparkling anew.

    Ashamed to admit I’ve not read any Angela Carter to date. I too would appreciate a recommendation as a first-timer, though actually the Clapp book sounds a lovely place to start.

  10. I’m glad to see you are back to regular posting and you already know how wonderful I think your blog revamp looks! I have only read some short stories by Angela Carter but I liked them–quirky though they were. I want to read more and have been collecting her books over time. This sounds like an interesting portrait of her as well!

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