No one does dark and sensual stories quite like Angela Carter. She dances on the edge of taboo with her gothic imagery and rich metaphors. She has a deft way of using language to awaken the senses, and in The Bloody Chamber she re-imagines well-known characters and situations against a vivid tapestry of emotions.
That said, I'm glad that I read The Bloody Chamber all the way through, instead of using my usual method of reading the first, then doing random samples of the other stories until I have finished the entire book. This collection of short stories has a logic to it, with folktales and fairy tales retold close to their original narrative found at the beginning of the book ("The Bloody Chamber," "The Courtship of Mr Lyon") before drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the deeply reworked and refashioned spirit of the later stories ("The Lady of the House of Love," "The Company of Wolves"). Had I read it in my normal fashion, I would have lost the lush beauty of that build-up.
Ms Carter presents different women caught in situations not of their own choosing -- a young woman bartered away to a mysterious stranger, a wife trapped in a loveless relationship, a snow-child found by the side of the road -- and shows how the female characters reverse the power structure without reversing the gender roles. By embracing their feminine sides, her characters emerge the dominant figures within their own narratives.
What made this collection a heady read for me was Ms Carter's style, which varied from witty observation:
'Her face was acquiring, instead of beauty, a lacquer of the invincible prettiness that characterizes certain pampered, exquisite, expensive cats (The Courtship of Mr Lyon, p49).'
to sharp melancholy:
'The carnival air of her white dress emphasized her unreality, like a sad Columbine who lost her way in the wood a long time ago and never reached the fair (The Lady of the House of Love, p109).'
to the plain luscious:
'He strips me to my last nakedness, that underskin of mauve, pearlized satin, like a skinned rabbit; then dresses me in an embrace so lucid and encompassing it might be made of water (The Erl-King, p89).'
An embrace made of water. Images like that just hook me. I may have read the book hoping for stories that leaned towards horror but was drunk instead on the bold (if somewhat disturbing) re-imaginings that Ms Carter had in store for her reader -- as if underlining what her collection has shown me: one thought supplanted by another.