Thursday, March 9, 2017

Angela Carter's force and form

This New Yorker review of the authorized biography The Invention of Angela Carter might itself be thought of as a pocket biography of the writer, a novelist and fabulist of great achievement whose recognition in life was never, we think, proportional to her talent. The New Yorker piece is a lovely long read, full of lovely toothsome bits of bio; here's a taste:
In 1976, she accepted a commission to translate Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. She had been back in England for four years, but she was still living off the psychological tank dive of her Japanese period. After the Perrault volume was published, she embarked on The Bloody Chamber, with her own, reconceived versions of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. This is her great book, the one that only she could have written, the one in which everything that was good in her came to the fore and everything that had been bad became good. She was always best in the short form, as her friend Salman Rushdie noted. In her novels, he wrote, her voice, “that moonstone-and-rhinestone mix of opulence and flim-flam, can be exhausting. In her stories, she can dazzle and swoop, and quit while she’s ahead.”
Now, there's craft wisdom for you. Gem-work can delight but it can also dull its own dazzle with overdone. (Does this principle not seem related to the old saw quoted by Guy Davenport, "Every force evolves a form"?)

Whether your genre is long fiction or short, watercolor or marble, aphorism or treatise, you've got to know what works in those bounds, and what fails. Carter -- as any of her readers will tell you -- wrought wondrously when her forces were well-fitted to their form.

(Thank you to NERObooks contributing editor Jenna Bos for bringing this New Yorker piece to our attention.)

NB: If you like Angela Carter's fabulist short fictions, we advise you to take a look at Peter Caputo's collection Saint Medusa. Similar intelligence is at play there, working its magic upon similar source material.

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