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.’