The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – Soft, absorbing, and very, very strong
This book is basically about sex. Sex in the woods, sex in mansions, sex with wolves and cats and vampires. But sex.
Carter has taken a few old standards from Grimm folklore and tied them into a retrogressive knot which stakes the stories out as they should be seen, rather than the emasculated versions propagated by Disney today. For anyone who’s taken a gander at the original Grimm texts, or any of the old folklores, they were tales filled with terror, blood, flesh, sex and sudden death. One glance at any story in Russian Fairy Tales by Alexander Afanasyev will clue you in to the old ways WHERE EVERYBODY DIES. “Old Helgar was a mean and cantankerous woman. She went for a walk in the woods. And then the bears ate her.”
Not as straightforward in the fatality department as some of the Grimmer European tales, The Bloody Chamber deals out a fair share of menstruation, sex, mud, shit, and talking cats. The literature curls and meanders around the core of the meaning and weaves its own spell so you become sucked into the story as it unfolds. Carter is all about the telling of the tale, the atmosphere wrought from the lines, shadows and cobwebs and passions. She sucks you into a wonderland which you knew existed when you were a child, and then dollops on great helpings of shit and mud. These tales are grimy, dreamy worlds of shadow and light, full of slights and innuendos and full on rumpy if the story dictates. By Cthulhu, there’s a lot of sex. Just about everything but the kitchen sink gets a good seeing too.
The majority of the stories are woven fields of ancient lore bubbling with threat and humour, but bawd is thrown in there as well, with an updating of Puss-In-Boots, which is hilarious and involves the tale of Puss and his Master and their efforts to get in the knickers (for want of love, of course) of a local woman married to a miser. There is comedy. There is knobbing. There is farce. There is more knobbing. And then death. But it’s a happy ending.
Considering how brutal some of the original tales are, Carter is a sentimental old sod, and happy endings aren’t for wanting, even if something has to be sacrificed to reach the golden chalice. However, it is not the tale but the telling of the tale that matters, and Carter has the knack of sucking you into her world without the sparkle dust and puppy dogs which eviscerate most of folklore for the Disney generations. Best read in a gothic mansion, lit by candles, as a tempest batters the shuttered windows outside.