Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a short, savage, surreal meditation on the fate of women in fairy tales. A few of the stories succeed brilliantly. Most fall short. This is a collection of stories about men, women and the ways in which innocence is sometimes given, but more often taken. It is violent, bloody and sometimes vile. It is also, at turns, beautiful. Sometimes painfully so.
The men are beasts — lecherous, gluttonous, power-mad. As is often the case in fairy tales, the women are sacrificial virgins offered to sate the voracious appetites of terrible monsters. Sometimes, the women are ruined by failed, disastrous relationships. Sometimes, the women are rescued, Occasionally, the women give themselves over to their own transformations and become strange, beautiful, savage creatures in their own right.
The best story is the title story, which is a magically realistic retelling of The Beauty and the Beast. “The Company of Wolves” is also terrific. Wolves feature prominently throughout the stories — lycanthropes, condemned souls and a few strange twists on the Red Riding Hood theme.
There are plenty of wonders throughout the book and some really powerful imagery. Most generally, the writing is too heavy, packed tight with arcane description. This collection of stories aspires to transport the reader. Skim through. It is a short book but I found myself taking a long time to read it. I pushed my way through. I was not carried.