Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
Angela Carter's stories are Byzantine, richly layered affairs. She draws on fairy tale themes and writes in a style that could easily be called "purple" or "hothouse," if not for its intense focus. Some, like this 1978 collection's eponymous tale, are actual retellings of well-known classics like "Bluebeard" or "Beauty and the Beast." The violence and sexuality that Carter sees inherent in nature always lurk just around the corner here, if not in plain view. "The Erl-King" is an absolute tour-de-force, revisiting Romantic views of nature and creation even as it tears them down. "Wolf-Alice" is a fine conclusion to the volume, pulling together themes from many folk tales and weaving them together with a postmodern Gothic sensibility. It's no wonder that Carter's stories, continually subverting authority and questioning who is in control, are regarded by critics as highly feminist.
If you're hungry for more after finishing The Bloody Chamber, VCU Libraries has much of Carter's oeuvre, from her influential book of essays, The Sadeian Woman : an Exercise in Cultural History, to her surreal novel The War of Dreams. Carter is one of many noted 20th century fabulists, and the reader who enjoys her may also enjoy the fiction of Jonathan Carroll, Shirley Jackson, or Steven Millhauser.