In need of slow-release but sustained literary genius this weekend I prescribed myself a dose of Angela Carter.
Several Perceptions was my selection and has had my literary senses sated and verging on overload over the last two days with its utter brilliance.
I read it slowly and deliberately.
This is not a feast to be thrown down the throat in record time.Even given the tiny mouthfuls I was almost choking on the constant stream of sheer originality and crystal clear imagery of Angela Carter's writing. Some of it so hopelessly funny yet finely balanced with tragedy and all way beyond clever.
This is gourmet.
This is how to write.
Less is more, high calorie intense flavours all carefully blended.No waffle, no padding, every word made to count and earning its place on the page.
No drizzled sauces to distract...enough of the food imagery, Angela would be cringing.
Except that now I dig and delve and discover Margaret Atwood's thoughts on Angela Carter because they were good friends, and I find that she sees her work as "a plum pudding" or "like a pound of Turkish delight, it's too rich for a single mouthful" so I'm in good company with my food analogy.
Then blow me down what does Margaret say but " Prose like glass, yes - but it's stained glass" so an extension of my crystal idea.
There's a consensus building here.
I had been browsing in the shop at the National Portrait Gallery in London a few weeks ago and was in instant-swoop-mode as they placed a pile of cut-price books right under my nose.
One was a bargain at £3, Interrupted Lives in Literature edited by Andrew Motion.
Literary lives cut tragically short so I anticipated a fairly predictable list. In fact yes Sylvia's in there of course but no Virginia. Instead Shelley, Katherine Mansfield, Edward Thomas, Christopher Marlowe and most fascinating of all a great essay on Angela Carter by Ali Smith.
"She died of lung cancer in 1992. She was fifty-one. It wasn't a young-and-tragic writer's death, like Plath's or Brooke's or Keats's, it was the loss of an artist at the height of it, an artist who...had always worked at the height of it, and whose power had, each time she wrote, and within the mere twenty-five years in which she wrote, revolutionised the literary landscape and made unthinkable heights possible"
I've been incredibly lax in getting to grips with Angela Carter's writing, a bit of a book here and there but nothing that has given me a true understanding of her writing.Her first novel Shadow Dance published in 1966, her final one Wise Children in 1991and inbetween a vast literary landscape traversed with scary words like magical realism thrown in by the critics for good measure.
As Ali Smith suggests, Angela Carter was
"Playful, fearless, fierce and brilliant...surprising and uncategorisable"
and the critics it would seem didn't know quite where to place her.
She was no shrinking violet either when it came to declaring her literary influences and nor did she stand any nonsense from fellow novelists who indulged in what she termed "self-inflicted wounds".
Magical realism to me often suggested bizarre and unintelligible writing until I read The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende and then I grasped it all. Now I'm comfortable with it, but hold on, Angela Carter disliked the label and felt it just couldn't apply to English writing so I'm going to forget that categorisation as I approach her writing anew.
I can't recommend this piece highly enough. Ali Smith gets to the core of this truly important writer and plenty of wonderful anecdotes along the way. Relating the tale of Angela Carter's inclusion on the editiorial committee of Virago Books in the mid 1970's and the reason she gave for joining
"by the desire that no daughter of mine should ever be in a position to write By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, exquisite prose though it may contain.By Grand Central Station I Tore off His Balls would be more like it I should hope"
Sorry chaps that was then, but bless Angela, and I might even try my hand at Ali Smith again in gratitude for such an invaluable essay which has re-opened a welcome literary door and for telling me to
"Go out tomorrow and get Carter. Get all her fiction, all her fact, read it from its beginning all the way to its glorious open end...the world will be the same, yet absolutely altered"
More thoughts on Several Perceptions when I've
digested it recovered my equilibrium though how I'll place this dish before you do it justice on here I really don't know so final words on Angela Carter to Margaret Atwood from Writing With Intent : Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005
"Many of her best effects are achieved by overloading. She piles the adjectives up into a towering chocolate-and-cherries mound, then pulls the tablecloth out from under it so the whole edifice comes crashing delightfully down.She loves blowing bubbles and she also loves bursting them"