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Angela Carter died in 1992, but her novels, short story collections, and essays live on, attracting new generations of readers to her often dark, always quirky worldview. Perhaps best known for her fiction (Wise Children, Nights at the Circus, Burning Your Boats, Saints and Strangers, among other titles), Carter was also a gifted and prolific essayist. Two earlier collections, Nothing Sacred and Expletives Deleted, contained much of her journalism and nonfiction; in this latest collection, editor Jenny Uglow has followed Carter's lead, categorizing her work in offbeat, provocative ways. Divided into five main sections ("Self"; "Body Languages"; "Home and Away"; "Looking"; "Stories and Tellers") and many subsections, Uglow has presented essays that range from the early 1960s right up until her death.
Carter certainly wears her convictions on her sleeve; in the 1984 essay "An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and Other Dishes" she decries the "widespread and unashamed cult of conspicuous gluttony" that has sprouted up among yuppie "foodies" in England--people for whom "food is a cornerstone of this hysterical new snobbery." After describing an article in a gourmet magazine that subtly threatens dire consequences for the ignorant host who cannot tell a factory-made brie from a farm-made one, she observes dryly: "This mincing and finicking obsession with food opens whole new areas of potential social shame. No wonder the British find it irresistible." She brings the same laserlike analysis to her 1975 discussion of women's cosmetics, "The Wound in the Face": "[Manufacturers] do not understand their own imagery, any more than the consumer who demonstrates it does. I'm still working on the nature of the imagery of cosmetics. I think it scares me."
Whether she's discussing feminism, her own life history, travel to far-flung corners of the world, or the work of other writers such as Grace Paley or F. Scott Fitzgerald, Angela Carter does so with both precision, intelligence, great wit, and occasional flashes of lyricism. Consider this meditation on the London zoo: "When darkness falls and the crowds are gone and the beasts inherit Regent's Park, I should think the mandrills sometimes say to one another: 'Well, taking all things into consideration, how much better off we are here than in the wild! Nice food, regular meals, no predators, no snakes, free medical care, roofs over our heads... and, after all this time, we couldn't really cope with the wild again, could we?' So they console themselves, perhaps. And, perhaps, weep." And so readers may console themselves with this fine collection of essays. Something to remember Angela Carter by. --Alix Wilber
There is no question that Carter (1940-1992) did what she did best extremely well. Her darkly imaginative fiction, such as the novel The Infernal Desire Machine of Doctor Hoffman or the short-story collection The Bloody Chamber, caused at least one critic to call her England's "Lady Edgar Allan Poe." But fiction was only one part of Carter's output, the other, quite substantial share, is represented here in nearly 150 articles written between 1967 and 1992. Most of the pieces originally appeared in New Society, London Review of Books, the Guardian or a handful of other venues, and over half have never been previously collected. Her three essays on her parents are particularly lovely and Carter's admirers will want to read what she has to say on such formative writers as Borges, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Christina Stead, Michael Moorcock and the masters of fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm, Andersen and Perrault. On other subjects?travel, the body, movies, music, television, fashion?Carter's style remains irresistible (she describes Antonin Artaud as "another nutter, another bedsit megalomaniac creating huge cosmogonies between rarely changed sheets that permanently reeked of last week's bacon fat"). However, her pursuit of the good line occasionally gets in the way of the facts (e.g., "Josef von Sternberg, ne Joe Sternburg of Brooklyn"?however dubious his claim to the "von," he was born in Vienna). And despite Carter's stylistic proficiency, the overall content of her essays reflects a rather predictable political condemnation of gender/class hegemony. This collection should be read piecemeal; for those smart enough to do so, Carter's style and descriptive sensibility will overwhelm any objections.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.