49. ‘Burning Your Boats’ by Angela Carter

burning your boats angela carterThe Book:

I had never read anything by Angela Carter before this collection, so I didn’t really know what to expect, although I had heard many good things. A month or so into reading this collection, I went to Shortstoryville and watched a panel discussion about ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (which features in this collection), and that helped me to get under the skin of these stories a lot more effectively.

Carter’s writing is robust, sumptuous, even gorgeous. She conjures rich worlds; from the utmost luxury and decadence, to pure filth and squalor, her talents bring her settings to life vividly and in very few words. I think it was her language that stood out most clearly to me to begin with: I instantly knew I was in the hands of a highly skilled storyteller.

I have quoted Carter’s opinion on ‘fairytales’ before, but it bears repeating.

My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories.

She has achieved this wonderfully. The bare bones of the tales we all know and love are there – enough to recognise them – but they have been transformed into stronger, more complex stories.  ‘Master’ is ‘Robinson Crusoe’, ‘Reflection’ is ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, and ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (one of my personal favourites). Carter has distilled them to their essence and then built them up again, better than before.

There are other, more experimental stories in ‘Burning Your Boats’. For example, ‘The Fall River Axe Murders’ has grown out of a one line poem. There are three versions of one ghost story, featuring a narrative voice that analyses the text as it speaks. There is an almost academic analysis of the characters in pantomime, but twisted slightly so that they all inhabit one world. And if I had to pick a favourite? It appears right at the beginning of the book: ‘The Man Who Loved a Double Bass’ is simply beautiful.

This is a fantastic collection of stories and a great introduction to Carter, as she deals with the most basic instincts of human nature – fear, lust and death – in a unique and striking way. I will definitely be reading more by this incredible writer.

“He strips me to my last nakedness, that underskin of mauve, pearlised satin, like a skinned rabbit, then dresses me again in an embrace…”

The Background:

It took me most of the year to read this book, for some reason – it was perpetually on the bedside table and I only dipped into it now and again. It came from my aunt and uncle, who very kindly gave me a huge haul of books at the beginning of the year. I started it as soon as I got my hands on it, abandoned it for many months, and then finished it off in December. I didn’t stop at the end of a story either. Oh no, my several month break happened mid-story, so that one’s a bit messed up in my brain. I don’t know why I put it down; I guess I got distracted by other books!


If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?

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