The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter | Book Review

Hey everyone! Today I have a book review of The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

This is a collection of 10 short stories where Carter rewrites popular fairy tales, and she often makes several versions of her own writings as well. The fairytales include “Blue Beard”, “Snow White”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Erl-King”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. Carter takes the versions of fairytales that were in circulation before the Grimm Bothers collected and adapted them, so these fairytales often have a dark, twisted turn that does not always end well.

One of the characteristics of Carter’s writing is that she always uses female protagonists and it is through this view that we see the world and we learn about the world. Because her protagonists are always female, we have a feminine perspective, and this is accompanied with the experience of sexuality, and going from innocence to an adult life. Most of the times there is a relation between love and sexuality with death, and that can mean either the character is dead, or the death of her previous self, etc. There is always the sense of an ending with each of the stories and each of the experiences.

The presence of the chromatic is very important as well because many of the characters are virgins at the beginning of the story, and they get to experience a certain form of sexuality by the end of it. So there is usually the contrast between white and red, especially in the form of a bridal dress with a red stain that can be wine, or blood, or whatnot.

The stories are heavy in secrets and manipulation; it is often a male character that is trying to manipulate the female one. However, what Carter does is to disrupt this idea and give power to the female characters, so even though they may be innocent and vulnerable  at the beginning of the story, they have a certain power that can allow them to overcome this masculine presence.

The girls often embrace their sexuality and use it a s a weapon to combat this male dominant presence and the evil that is haunting them. Because this is a collection of fairytale writings, there is a presence of the metamorphoses, so characters often change to animal forms, or they adopt certain traits that make them kind of beastlike. This is not only for the male enemies and make characters, but also for the female protagonists. This is especially true in the stories that have three versions. So, in one, a character experiments in how to make the female protagonist beast, in the other one it is the lover who becomes a beast, and in the third one both of them come back to humanity. This is repeated in several stories so the writing is very experimental, and the plots take several unexpected turns.

There are times when the female characters also fall in love with beasts,. This sexual relationship that they have with them becomes very transgressive, but the same is true for the other way around: sometimes the beast falls in love with the human girl.

Carter also plays with the idea of love and how it can be related to a sexual relationship. Sometimes the character first falls in love, and then gives her body to the beast or the person or the evil entity, but at other times it is the other way around: first there is a sexual relationship and then the character falls in love. This is mainly seen in the story of the Erl King where the protagonist says “He’s a tender butcher who showed me that the price of flesh is love”, so the price of giving away your body is falling in love with that person. In this sense, Carter gives an empowerment to the female characters through their sexuality, so instead of becoming vulnerable because of this they can achieve what they want and they can save their lives.

The language is highly poetical and especially metaphoric, and Carter’s use of metaphors is very unexpected so things that you wouldn’t have thought could be related, she makes it work very very well. There is also a sense of a feminine language—if that can be a thing; I don’t know if it’s because the language appeals to the senses. The language is also very sensual and erotic, especially related to the sexual encounters, but it can also be very violent, especially when the male characters brings the female character into experience, and she goes from being a child to an adult in a matter of a few pages.

I have to say that Angela Carter that makes me go to extremes when it comes to her books; sometimes I love them to pieces, and other times I just hate them and I don’t want to read anything from her again. And this happened while I was reading The Bloody Chamber: some stories work great for me, but the others did not work at all. And this roller coaster of emotions is not what I want from a book, but it happens to me with her writing.

My favorite stories were “The Bloody Chamber”, “The Erl-King”, and “The Snow Child”. My least favorite stories which I wish were not in the collection are those related to “The Beauty and the Beast” so, if you don’t like that one story, I’d say just keep ahead and read the rest of the collection, and then come back to those stories.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and because of its mature content, I recommend it solely to adults or high school seniors.

Lots of love,

Published by Dany Szelsky

I worked as a TA at university from 2017-2018 teaching the seminars of Gothic Literature, Postmodernist Literature, and Modernist Literature. I worked from 2018-2019 as a High School Literature teacher with six groups on 10th grade and one in 12th grade. I taught 7 classes to over 180 students. I am currently studying an MA in English and American Studies at Ca' Foscari University of Venice.

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