'She had an intelligence that radiated for twenty-five metres around her...a way of looking whihc made you feel that whatever you were going to say nexy had better be interesting...'
Terry Pratchett on Angela Carter.
It is twenty years today since the untimely death of Angela Carter, from lung cancer at the age of fifty-one and now that I have passed that age (and some) I can see real meaning to that word 'untimely'.
I would never have embarked on dovegreyreader scribbles for a start, and whilst you wouldn't have missed what you hadn't known I look back and think how much richer my life has been for the opportunities that my fifties are bringing, how much has been added that was so unexpected. So who can even begin to know what might still have been to come from Angela Carter... Margaret Atwood thinks she would have gone on from fiction 'to become one of our foremost cultural, social and political commentators.'
And today I am on a bit of an adventurous day trip to London meeting with other bloggers for tea at Bloomsbury, followed by a celebration of Angela Carter's life this evening with Susannah Clapp, author of A Card From Angela Carter, in conversation with Liz Calder. I loved Susannah's book so I am looking forward to the day very much and thanks to my new iPad technology I will hope to bring you some of the highlights as I go along, though you'll have to bear with me as I'm new to the contraption. It will hopefully include a round-up of the day, written as I travel back West on the last train before the sleeper, and bless Bookhound for driving fifty miles to the station to meet me at 1am tomorrow morning.
Dickens and I... will be on Saturday this week to give Angela some space.
I had been lax about reading Angela Carter properly until now, so she has been upgraded to the 'Going to Read More of These in 2012' cabinet (Bowen, Byatt, Carter, Drabble, Fitzgerald, Hart, Mantel, Murdoch, Taylor) ) and having just finished The Magic Toyshop I am all agog to read more.
What a strangely disconcerting book, one to really shift the reading foundations and plop you in another world, but a new and very exciting one... and I guess that might be exactly what Angela Carter wanted me to feel, as Melanie and her brother and sister, orphaned and ejected from their comfortable home and lifestyle, find themselves on the train and en route to being plopped in a strange world of their own where adoption by Uncle Philip and his mute wife Aunt Margaret awaits.
'The train was a kind of purgatory, a waiting time, between the known and completed past and the unguessable future which had not yet begun...'
As the children settle into their new life living above Uncle Philip's toyshop with Margaret's sons Francie and Finn Jowle ...
'They were an entity, the Jowles, warm as wool...'
...well by fairy-tale standards I was expecting a fairy-tale existence. I mean all toymakers are lovely old men with round spectacles, white beards, braces, aprons and crinkly eye-smiles aren't they.
Not Uncle Philip who fits the bill of the ogre in the fairytale and acts like one too, and life is about to become odder and stranger for Melanie by turns. Trust Angela Carter to turn it all on its head.
Reading the work of an 'audacious imagination', as Carmen Calill describes Angela Carter's in her introduction to my Virago designer volume, was always going to be a rollercoaster ride, and The Magic Toyshop most certainly proved to be that, compelling reading that immersed me in an alien world filled with those glimmers of the surreal mixed with normality, an impossible book to explain, you just need to go and live in it for yourself to know. I think I emerged blinking into the daylight at the other end knowing I had finally been properly initiated into the world according to Angela.
In her introduction to Essays on the Art of Angela Carter published by Virago, Ali Smith says it like this...
'...a voice which in the span of one writing life reintroduced buoyancy, thought, shape-shift, unselfishness, politics, richness, risk, originality, timeless new-found story to English writing and made a whole new sense out of the act of writing fiction. 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. Then go down into the wine cellar and smash open a few of those dusty old bottles.
The world will be the same, yet absolutely altered.'
Expect some very funny moments too.. turns of phrase within the context of the book that just made me laugh aloud, astute and clever, wry and funny...
Take Mrs Rundle's cat. Mrs Rundle the children's 'nanny'..
'Mrs Rundle's cat was an obese, nose-in-the-air Tom. Seated, it was the size and shape of a fur coffee table, a round one...'
Or Melanie's recollection of her mother...
'Melanie remembered that, when she was a little girl her mother cuddled her, the embraces were always thickly muffled in cloth - wool, cotton or linen, according to the season of the year. Her mother must have been born dressed, perhaps in an elegant well-fitting caul selected from a feature in a glossy magazine, 'what the well-dressed embryo is wearing this year'.
There were plenty of references that transported me back in time as well. Toy shops almost as much a thing of past as A.S.Byatt's sawdust-strewn butcher's shops, and you might want the Noah's Ark when you read the description...
'The flat-bottomed ark itself had a sea-scape on its side, painted up to the plimsoll line, a dimensionless vision of the remote deeps full of strawberry-coloured fish and forests of weds and barnacled rocks, with here and there, a plump mermaid of the kind sailors have tattooed on their arms. Either the mermaid was energetically breasting the waves or she sat on the upturned keel of a drowned vessel and combed out long and improbably yellow hair...'
Sadly there was never a Paris Review Interview with Angela Carter, but that doesn't mean she wasn't mentioned in others...
A.S.Byatt speaking in 1998.... I remember my first meeting with Angela Carter, with whom I became great friends later. We all went to hear Stevie Smith reading her poetry—lots of writers around her, rather like a bullring—and she stood in the middle and read. On the way out this very disagreeable woman stomped up to me, and she said, My name’s Angela Carter. I recognized you and I wanted to stop and tell you that the sort of thing you’re doing is no good at all, no good at all. There’s nothing in it—that’s not where literature is going. That sort of thing. And off she stomped. Then about five years ago she said that she had realized that she was a writer because of fairy tales, because she was hooked on narrative as a child, not by realist novels about social behavior or how to be a good girl, but by these very primitive stories that go I think a lot deeper. It wasn’t until she said it that I felt empowered, which is why I have to acknowledge that she said it....
More joined-up thinking to inform my current reading.
iPad willing I will be back later today, but meanwhile please scroll down for gifts....