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The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (1979) 149 p.

The Bloody Chamber has been kicking around on my to-be-read list for a while now; one of those books the average reader probably hasn’t heard of, but which is very popular in academic circles. It’s a collection of stories by Angela Carter which are presented as mature retellings of European fairytales, but which Carter preferred to describe as “attempts to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” Frankly I think that has a whiff of Margaret Atwood insisting her books aren’t science fiction; certainly the first story, The Bloody Chamber (which takes up almost a third of the book) is more or less a straight rendition of Bluebeard.

The stories in here also include stalwarts Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast and Red Riding Hood, and Carter sometimes retells the same story more than once. I quite enjoyed the story The Bloody Chamber, but there was a sense of diminishing returns the deeper I went into the book. Carter has a particularly rich writing style which is pleasant to immerse yourself in, especially since so many of the stories take place in manors and castles and the trappings of luxury: richness described richly, as it were.

I wouldn’t argue that there’s anything hugely feminist about this book, other than shining the focus on the female characters in well-known fairytales; too often Carter’s protagonists simply rise to strength by emulating male traits, and this doesn’t seem particularly radical – although I suppose it was the 1970s. But in any case, The Bloody Chamber didn’t stir enough passion in me to bother trying to analyse it. I’m sure there are many essays out there on the internet without my two cents. Overall it’s exactly the kind of book you’d expect to see on a university reading list, but has less appeal for the average reader.

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June 2015