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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Storms and tempests be gone! The several perceptions of Angela Carter

Last weekend I decided that the best way to take my mind off the worst gales that France has seen in a while was to settle down to a bit of Angela Carter. This seemed fitting as I discovered Carter a few years ago in equally inclement circumstances. I was in Ukraine of all places with my husband and a few friends for a skiing holiday. Now, I am not one of life’s skiers – not by a long chalk. So I spent most of the holiday – deep in the Carpathian winter, curled up with a hot chocolate and Angela Carter’s wonderful final novel Wise Children.

This weekend’s bad weather choice was the Virago Modern Classic – Several Perceptions. Several Perceptions was Carter’s third novel and in 1968 won the Somerset Maugham prize. It is the short and highly intense tale of Joseph – a confused and disorientated rebel without a cause whose disorderly life has been turned on its belly by the desertion of his adored girlfriend, Charlotte. In many respects the novel can be read as an allegory of the freedoms and adversities of the “swinging sixties”. Our characters wander around in a mad hatter world where they can do anything and yet seem to do nothing. Finally a resolution of sorts is reached via a bewildering carnal escapade and a drunken party – neither of which are communicated without irony.

Like many of Carter’s other novels – it deals wonderfully with a community of misfits – depicting with a sharp eye the kindness and the cruelty that can lurk just beyond the word “eccentric”. Carter presents her characters as the flotsam and jetsam of the sixties revolution – people who have been slightly lost in a cultural idea. What is more – the popular bohemia of that era is shown without gloss and sentimentality. Carter manages to celebrate the era without revering it.

There are few writers who are able to describe with the power and humour of Angela Carter. Sometimes the writing is so good that I read it again – savouring each word. For example these words are used to describe the slightly adorable, desperately unhappy prostitute Mrs Boulder:

“Viv’s mother had a bright white steeple of curls on top of her head; this fragile construction slid sideways as she drank during the course of an evening while the bright peach false face she assumed upon her natural features began to run with moisture until she looked like a pink stucco Venetian palazzo about to subside into a cascade of mud and rubble into a canal”.

Carter’s description of Maggie, the tin whistle playing sidekick to an Irish band, is equally striking:

“It was a tilted, brazen face, a carefree slut’s face; she was a raw boned country girl, young and very rackety, the spirit of Saturday night in small country towns at the back of beyond, a neighbourhood bad girl, meaning no harm”.

Carter surveys humanity thus – with breathless and powerful irreverence.

The only sadness of my time with Several Perceptions is that I did find Joseph unsympathetic – and although I realise that this is intended – still it is a barrier to my loving the book in the way that I loved Wise Children. For me Wise Children was the height of Carter’s achievement as a novelist – but all of the ingredients – the humour, the strange optimism and that little bit of magic – are here in Several Perceptions.

I probably ought to stop associating Angela Carter with rotten weather though – I don’t want to have to wait for another storm before reading more of her work.

I have included a photograph of Carter and of the shutter - smashing havoc wreaked outside during my reading.


  1. I don't have Several Perceptions and have never even heard of it! This means a trip to the bookstore. Oh no.

    I love what I've read of Carter and certainly must read this one, too.

    Excellent review!

  2. What a fabulous mug! I haven't read Several Percewptions but think it is a Virago?

  3. Another wonderful post - I love sheltering from weather under the twin banner of 'reading' and 'hot chocolate', too. There's something timelessly romantic about it. Did you add candlelight to the equation at all?


  4. I'm hoping to read my first Angela Carter soon and am considering The Magic Toyshop. You've got me wondering if Wise Children might be a better choice...
    Love the mug!

  5. It seems like the weather has been horrible all over the world! I have never read anything by ANgela Carter, but love stories with quirky characters and this one sounds good. Thanks

  6. Gosh... your poor house!
    Thank you for your great review. I've only read 'The Magic Toyshop' by Carter, which I enjoyed. Do you follow Paperback Reader's blog? She's holding an Angela Carter month in April.

  7. Angela Carter is one of the shameful gaps in my reading.

  8. Thanks all for your lovely comments.

    Mad Housewife - I hope you enjoy more Carter - I do think that her work is fabulous.

    Verity - yes this one is a VMC and I have the new cover version (which I don't think are as nice as the old green spines)..

    Lulu - I shall remember the candles for next time!

    Joann - I have't read the Magic Toyshop - so it might be a perfect place to start - i definately recommend Wise Children which is one of my favourite books

    Diane - Yes teh weather has been terrible, although I have to say it is now glorious here - it is almost hard to believe that it was so bad just a short time ago.

    Rochester Reader - yes i do follow Paperback Reader and look forward to the month...

    Bybee - give her a go - you'll love her!


  9. I've not read any Angela Carter but will now seek out Wise Children. From those two passages I sense her writing is incredibly descriptive.

    Hope the weather has settled enough for you to fix your shutters - did you have a lovely sunny day in France yesterday? It was gorgeous here.

    Love your mug!


  10. Hi Jeanne -

    Yes she is a very descriptive writer who manages to combine being quite flowery with also being blunt - if you know what I mean.

    Weather is now gorgeous - sun blazing, blue sky and so warm that we don't really need coats on! It is hard to believe that it was so awful only a couple of days ago...


  11. Hello! Thanks for commenting at my place. I love your coffee mug! I've scrolled down your posts and am happy to report I haven't read any of the books you have posted on....I am comforted and reassured that I have a long, long list of books to read now!

  12. I am intrigued as now I have found a new author to read that sounds great - thanks for turning me onto it!

    Also, please tell me where you got your mug - it's brilliant!

  13. Hi Hannah, I've never read anything by Angela Carter, but now I'm very intrigued. Her writing is beautiful and I appreciate the passages you copied.

    I hope the weather improves for you. I live in Alberta Canada, an hour away from the Canadian Rocky Mountains and we're having beautiful weather. It's the eastern United States south of us and Europe that seems to be getting our winters for once.

    Stay warm, and thanks for visiting my blog and allowing me to discover yours.

  14. I have not read Carter and have to admit I am becoming quite curious...not only because of your post but in the book I am reading now, the author has recommended reading Carter several times. I love the mug...it would have represented my feelings if it had been my shutter coming loose. I wanted to thank you for your Chuzzlewit suggestion...I read a summary and just to see how Dickens portrays America has me wanting to read it. It will have to wait though until after Pickwick...another door stopper:)

  15. Great review! It's funny, but Nights at the Circus has been on my radar for a while, because it is on the Erica Jong list of favorite books by women, but I don't like circuses, so I have avoided it. I don't even know if it is really about the circus, but the title scared me off.

    Now I want to run out and read any and all AC books I can find -- the quotes you pulled are terrific.

  16. Thanks for your comments folks!

    Tessa Scoffs - I hope that you enjoy discovering new read. Blogging is certainly good for that!

    Amused - I got both my "keep calm and carry on" and my "now panic and freak out" mugs from Selfridges in London but I think that you can buy them on the internet... I love them, and can always have my tea in a mug suiting my mood...

    Mirella - thanks for your kind comments. The weather is much improved and we are now sunny and warm. I have so much enjoyed discovering your blog.

    Book Psmith - glad you liked the Chuzzlewit summary that you read. I am not 100% but I *think* that Dickens went to the US to research in the same way that he researched for Nicholas Nickleby. Hope you enjoy it.

    Rose City Reader - I enjoyed Nights at the Circus (although my husband didn't - he much preferred Wise Children which is also my favourite). There is a circus in it and it is pretty central - there is a lot of circus imagery - having said that it is not exactly about a circus - it is about a star in a circus and a person pursuing her. i am not going to say anymore than that because I think it is great read that you may enjoy discovering. Hope you enjoy it!

    Thanks all


  17. I read a lot of Angela Carter during my student days. Your review makes this sound wonderful. I'm off to pop it in my Amazon basket right now. Greetings from Italy -- Louise.

  18. Louise - I do hope that you enjoy it.

    It is great to have such an international community of readers on here - and here in France I am also a major customer of Amazon!

    Thanks for visiting,


  19. Hi Hannah, I noticed your comment on Another Cookie Crumble's most recent post and came looking for your Several Perceptions post.

    Like you I read and reread Carter's words as they are so rich and require savouring. Wise Children is one of my favourite Carter novels and I'm excited to reread it this month for my Angela Carter month (I hope that you can join in).