Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Invention of Angela Carter, by Edmund Gordon. Chatto and Windus, 2016

Angela Carter is pretty high on my list of favorite authors, so I was delighted to see this book. Her stories refuse to fit neatly into any one genre; they have humor, magical realism, pure fantasy, literary fiction, grim fairy tales, and a lot more. She also wrote tons of journalism pieces, and had a huge volume of correspondence (which was one of the many sources Gordon mined). Her early novels are not much known these days, but her later ones- ‘Wise Children’ and ‘Nights at the Circus’- as well as the reimagined fairy tales in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ sold well when published and are still popular now.

Carter’s early life was suffocating. Her mother was controlling to the point of monomania. Angela was not allowed to use the bathroom alone until she was eleven, and her mother wanted to accompany her to college. The only way to escape perpetual childhood was to marry, which put her into a different type of prison. Her marriage to Paul Carter was happy at first; she loved him, and having her own house rather than being under her mother’s thumb made up for any number of faults. But as the years went on, and she wrote and went to college, holes appeared. Paul Carter seems to have suffered from depression, as well as wondering aloud why his wife couldn’t keep the house clean when she had plenty of time to read and write. When Angela won a writing prize that paid her to travel, she went to Japan by herself and the marriage soon ended. She had a couple of intense affairs while she was there, both with much younger men, and found herself perfectly capable of living on her own. Later, back in England again, she met Mark Pearce (again a younger man), a construction worker who fixed a plumbing problem for her. While not an ‘educated’ man, Pearce was far from stupid and their relationship lasted until her death. At 43, Angela gave birth to a son, Alex. Throughout this relationship, Angela continued to write ceaselessly, while Pearce went to college, tended to the house and Alex, started a pottery shop, became a teacher, and generally kept Angela’s life together. During this time, Angela was finally enjoying success and financial stability. Sadly, just when her life had all come together, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died at 51.

To say that Angela was an interesting person is an understatement. She didn’t put much stock in appearance or housekeeping, although her house was decorated like a bardo. Her many friends never knew what she would say next- just as she wrote what she thought without a filter, so did she speak. Her relationship with feminism was rocky; feminists liked her rewriting of fairy tales to have the female as the strong character, they were less than happy with ‘The Sadeian Woman’. She herself dealt with sexism all her working life; the financial details in Gordon’s book seem boring but they show in black and white how much less she was paid than male novelists of the time, who sold the same number of  books as she did.

The book was fascinating to me, but it’s not a fast read. Gordon quotes her friends, many of whom were still alive to interview, and had the resource of many of her letters. It’s dense with detail, a lot of it about her writing process and dealings with publishers and editors. Angela Carter, living in the time she did, had to invent herself as the old patterns for being a woman did not suit her, nor did the old patterns for writers to follow. 

The above is an affiliate link; if you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 


Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Heirs, by Susan Rieger. Crown, 2017

When Rupert Falkes, wealthy New York lawyer, dies, it leaves his family a bit at loose ends. His five sons- all middle aged men successful in their own fields- define themselves very strongly by their family relationships. Widow Eleanor reacts with calmness and proceeds to redecorate their home, which further upsets the boys- they take it as seeing every trace of their father vanish. Everyone is dealing with their loss, though, until yet another upsetting thing occurs: a woman contacts the estate, saying she has two sons by Rupert, and that they deserve a cut of the money- of which there is plenty. Suddenly, Rupert becomes a man they never really knew. Worse, Eleanor reacts calmly, which makes the boys think she knew about the other family all along and didn’t tell them. Rupert is beyond their reach, so they aim their anger at their mother.

The story twines between characters and through time, taking us through the lives and loves of not just Rupert and Eleanor, but of their sons, too. While Rupert and Eleanor seemed to their sons, to glide through life without a slip, there was a lot they never saw going on. All their lives turn out to be much more complex and, well, screwed up, than appears on the surface. These are people of old Eastern seaboard money (well, Rupert is not, having come to America as an orphan from England) and while money is not worried about, appearances are.

None of these people are totally bad (well, maybe the woman who says her sons are Rupert’s), so it was easy to read about them. Even the ones who did wretched things have good sides. I came to really like Eleanor, the calm center of the novel and of the family. The writing I found lovely; I could not put this novel down as something new was always turning up. In the end, we do not ever get the answer we (and the boys) want- but that’s okay. The journey itself is what’s important. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anythin g- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

My Cat Yugoslavia, by Pajtim Statovci. Pantheon Books, 2017

I honestly don’t know how to review this book. There are two story lines. One is told by Emine, a young Muslim girl in Yugoslavia. The other line is told by her son, Bekim. Emine’s story is horrifying, but it’s realistic. When a young man notices her on the road, he requests her hand in marriage- basically, his family buys her with new clothing for her family, food, jewelry, and enough money to finish building their house. In installments, we follow her wedding and life with him through the years, including the move to Finland. While her life was horrible, I enjoyed reading her narrative and learning about life in her country and as a refugee in Finland.

The other narrative, her son’s, didn’t make a lot of sense to me. On one hand, we have a realistic tale of a very lonely young gay man, living alone with a boa constrictor, which roams the apartment freely, despite Bekim being afraid of snakes. We see how he interacts with other men, the problems with his father, and how he returns to Yugoslavia after a number of years. But along with this, we see him in a club, meeting a cat who talks, wears human clothing, smokes, and seems at one  point to be tall enough to sit at a table like a human and then next minute he’s small enough to pick up. He’s also a total jerk (I know, many people would say all cats are jerks, whether they can talk or not) who is a total slob as well as emotionally abusive. My brain couldn’t manage to connect these events with the rest of Bekim’s life. I love magical realism, but I can usually make connections to the rest of the story with them. I don’t know if it was because this work was translated, or if I’m just not getting it.

In the end, it was a hard story to read because the protagonist’s lives were not easy- especially Emine’s. But there is hope even in such conditions, and I am glad I read this. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I got this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review.

Neither of these things influenced my review.