'The fin has come a little early this siecle...'
Angela Carter talking about her own life and impending death and I have her on my list of women writers to zone in on through 2012.
After tackling some of the Big Scary Male Authors last year, and all a bit half-heartedly, I have filled my chair-side cabinet with books by women writers I would really like to read more of this year.
Gathering them all in one place and keeping them in my eyeline works for me and I have had a lovely time pondering who to include. Tucked away in there now, everything I have by Elizabeth Bowen, A.S.Byatt, Joan Didion, Margaret Drabble, Penelope Fitzgerald, Hilary Mantel, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch and Angela Carter.
I've never really paid proper attention to Angela Carter's writing, by which I mean a good solid in-depth read of all her books (as I have done with say, Margaret Atwood or am in the process of doing with A.S.Byatt) so the arrival of A Card From Angela Carter by Susannah Clapp and published by Bloomsbury this very week, was all the encouragement I needed. I'm not a speed reader by any stretch of the imagination, but at a pocket-sized, well-spaced 103 pages this is easily readable in one sitting as I did, and it is a book that begs to be read in that way in the first instance.
Susannah Clapp was a close friend of Angela Carter and her literary executor, occasionally receiving postcards from her with wonderful messages on them and it is these that form the basis of this lovely little book.
I'm not sure people bother to send postcards now do they??
Unless you are me and can't resist buying them...and then they have to go to someone if they aren't in the bookmark box.
I had no idea that following her untimely death from lung cancer twenty years ago this month, it was outrage at Angela Carter's omission from the shortlists of any Booker Prize that led to the foundation of the Orange Prize, and whilst I have heard whispers of forthcoming biographies on Twitter, to date none has appeared. Within three days of her death Virago had sold out of every Angela Carter book.
Susannah Clapp positions Angela Carter within a literary timeline and context that perhaps explains why her writing went largely unacknowledged during her lifetime...
''...ten years too old and entirely too female to be mentioned routinely alongside Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan as being a youg pillar of British fiction...twenty years too young to belong to what she considered the 'alternate pantheon' of Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing and Muriel Spark. in the forties, when 'in a curious way, women formed the ascendancy'..."
A Card From Angela Carter is a wonderful starter for ten, a funny and insightful window on a complex and gifted writer with an imagination to match. The spirit of a woman who it would seem didn't suffer fools or inequality gladly, fiercely outspoken in her politics and consistently courageous in her writing. If anyone can be guaranteed to burst beyond the boundaries and create new and more interesting ones it is Angela Carter.
The postcards are illustrated throughout the book, and along with the messages and Susannah Clapp's additional background knowledge and friendship, they provide a glimpse into the life and the mind of writer we most surely miss for what may have come next. Unexpected, unpredictable and quirky Angela Carter's final instructions about her estate were quite clear, provide for her husband and son, no holding back on the grounds of good taste, turn it all into an ice show if you want just don't let Michael Winner near any of it. Forthright and fearless critical faculties, subversive in the extreme and can I own up to ...er... a flicker of a smile (that Angela Carter would have noticed...she never missed a flicker of emotion) and one that barely concealed choking hysterics at this anecdote..
'The royal family offered Angela the pleasure of rolling-eyed ridicule. She liked to put it about that the Queen had a secret black love child, claiming that you could see the gleam in the monarch's eye when surrounded by Commonwealth heads of state.'
It's probably me who will end up in the Tower for quoting that...thanks Ange.
As I think I mentioned recently I have been desperate for new and special editions of Angela Carter's fiction. I'd love a hardback series but in the meantime I am happy with these which arrived fortuitously just as I was about to have a whinge on here about the lack of.
What a wonderful idea it would be to re-issue the tape that publishers Chatto & Windus compiled to coincide with the publication of Wise Children, just months before Angela Carter's death. I'm a sucker for music to go with books and would love much more of it. The tape apparently expressed the 'heart of the book' with Fred Astaire singing Let's Face the Music and Dance, Kathleen Ferrier singing 'Che Faro', along with recordings of 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy,' 'I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby' 'The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Chaplin'.(possibly not all sung by Kathleen Ferrier) and I want it yesterday.
Music played a large part at Angela Carter's memorial celebration too, 'expansive, inclusive and gaudy' and held at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton because her very favourite building, Tooting Granada, was by now a bingo hall. The celebration took the form of the Desert Island Discs that Angela had eventually been too ill to record, and amongst her choices Billie Holiday singing Willow Weep because it reminded her of Streatham Ice Rink....wonder if we ever both skated there at the same time.
And Angela Carter's Desert Island luxury?
Well I couldn't possibly say, so you'll have to read the book to discover that one, but as you would expect, expect the unusual.
Well I was fortunate enough to win a book token in this year's Normblog Boxing Day Quiz, and having fallen in love with this Virago hardback edition of The Magic Toyshop it was that, and a collection of short stories Sugar by A.S.Byatt which both caught my eye on that trip to Foyles last week, so that was that.
Any more Angela fans out there with favourites to share??