I don’t know about you but it seems like a life time ago that I set myself the Angela Carter Challenge . And Wise Children has to be the hardest yet.
I’m not saying it didn’t still have the Carter magic. The text drips with hidden meaning and is saturated with cultural comment, but it is subtle story writing. So subtle it kept slipping through my fingertips and I would go to turn over the page before realising I hadn’t taken in a single word.
Written in 1991 it was Carter’s last novel and, like many written before, has theatrics at it’s core. The tale follows the fortunes of twin chorus girls, Dora and Nora Chance and the bizarre world which surrounds them. Calling on Carter’s signature themes of gender, family, sex and scandal it is a gentle stroll through a make believe world, a world of fickle fame.
As much of a slog as it was to keep reading on occasion your perseverance is repaid in the form of some passages. Lines which are so full of feeling and meaning they have to be re-read in a vain attempt to wring all possible meaning from them.
Here are some examples:
“She said she’d never, not until she picked us up and cuddled us that first morning, known what men were for. “I’d often wondered,” she said. “When I saw you two the penny dropped.”
“We were the offspring of the bastard king of England, if you like, and we weren’t going to inherit any of the gravy, so to hell with it.”
“Saskia, who was well in control of the situation being, unique amongst mammals, a cold-blooded cow, telegraphed a signal with her eyebrows and the baroque trumpets rang out again.”
It’s cutting, it’s clever and I really would love to study it. As with all of Carter’s work the layers of imagery and meaning would make it a delight to unravel. On my own however it didn’t absorb me, it didn’t whisk me away. Probably on purpose, after all, if I know anything about Carter she doesn’t want to just tell you a story, she wants to make you think.
* Shadow Dance (1966)
* The Magic Toyshop (1967)
* Several Perceptions (1968)
* Heroes and Villains (1969)
* Love (1971)
* The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972)
* The Passion of New Eve (1977)
* Nights at the Circus (1984)
* Wise Children (1991)
Getting there : ) As ever I love seeing the other covers… I know you aren’t supposed to judge, but I wonder if any of these would have made me read it differently. I do love the black and white one.