The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon

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The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon

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Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Passionate, fiercely intelligent and pleasantly contradictory, Angela Carter burst onto the literary scene in the 1960s, writing many beloved novels and short stories before her untimely death in 1992. In the first authorised biography of the writer, Edmund Gordon explores her life and work in considerable detail – a fascinating read that's extremely well put together.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 544 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099575726

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Shortlisted for Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2017

Angela Carter is remembered as an influential and inventive writer – with works like The Bloody Chamber and Nights at the Circus propelling her to fame, and a status as an icon and inspiration for many modern-day writers. Here author Edmund Gordon delves into the life of Carter – from the London of the 1940s through to the London of the 1990s, with stops in Bristol, Tokyo, Australia, and various other places in between. A work that is as full of detail as it is full of devotion to a remarkable woman, The Invention of Angela Carter is the first authorised biography of a woman and a writer who is hugely missed today.

I used to be rather scared of Angela Carter. I'm not entirely sure why – perhaps having heard that some of her stories could be described as feminist fairy tales put the teenaged Luke off, and the mere title The Bloody Chamber made me somewhat uncomfortable. However, a trip to see Nights at the Circus turned me on to Carter's talents, and it was at that moment I became a devotee – regularly re-reading her works and embracing her modern, visceral and immensely clever stories.

Storytelling was a huge part of Carter's life, and it seems that she told different versions of her life to different people she met – making her part author and part fictional creation. Bearing that in mind, writing a biography of such a woman can't have been easy, but Edmund Gordon does it with considerable skill – recreating the life of a fascinating and mercurial woman in vivid colour. Happily for Gordon, she lived a life that was full of variety and contrast. Marrying young to escape the confines of her childhood home, Carter found herself trapped again, but this time as a 1960s housewife. Studying and writing helped – with her third novel, Several Perceptions winning the Somerset Maugham prize and providing Carter with the funds to move to Tokyo. This, it would seem, truly proved the making of Carter – with themes and feelings from her time in Tokyo pervading many of her later works.

Returning to the western world, Carter became writer in residence at several universities – Sheffield and East Anglia in the UK, Brown in the USA, and Adelaide over in Australia. Her work continued to turn in unexpected directions – novels and short stories began to be accompanied by journalism, essays, screenplays, and librettos. A chance encounter with a man mending the roof of the house across the road from her in Clapham led to a second, happier marriage for Carter – and a beloved child as a result. Lung cancer cut Carter's life short at the age of 51, but with death came a new-found appreciation of her works – and it's never been clearer that Carter was a hugely talented author who, in parts, was ahead of her time as both a woman and a writer.

Edmund Gordon clearly has a great deal of respect for Carter – but he maintains an appropriate level of distance from her, instead allowing her story to be told through her letters, diaries, and recollections of friends and family. As a result, it's a read that manages to be both moving and well researched – not an easy task for a biography. At times Carter appears to be somewhat of an unreliable narrator in her own life, but this is no bad thing – it adds a little literary spice to proceedings and goes down a treat. For those who are fans of Carter and for those who have just heard of her in passing, The Invention of Angela Carter is a worthy read – crafted carefully and with great skill. Writing this review at my desk, which, as it happens, is a two-minute walk from the house where Carter spend her last and happiest years, it's hard not to feel sad that such an intriguing woman and mesmerising writer has gone. However, it's comforting to know that her memory and legacy is in the careful hands of a writer such as Edmund Gordon, and there's no doubt that Carter's works will live on far beyond any of us.

Many thanks to the publishers for the copy, and for further reading I recommend J.M. Coetzee: A life in writing by J C Kannemeyer. Similar to The Invention of Angela Carter it's a focused and skilled biography of a hugely talented writer, which allows the reader to view their work in a larger context of a social, personal and political life. If you'd like to sample some of her writing we can recommend Wise Children and Burning Your Boats.

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