|Wise Children by Angela Carter|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: An exuberant, bawdy look at the intertwined lives of the Hazards and the Chances in what was probably Angela Carter's best book. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: January 1992|
|Publisher: Vintage Classics|
Dora and Nora Chance are the twin daughters of Shakespearean actor Melchior Hazard and Pretty Kitty, the chambermaid at the theatrical boarding house where he was lodging in the First World War. Kitty died in childbirth and the girls were brought up by the woman they knew as Grandma. As for Melchior, he preferred that it be thought that his twin brother Peregrine was responsible and Perry was not unhappy to bear the burden. What Melchior didn't know was that the twin daughters which his first wife produced were actually sired by Perry. If you're getting confused, then bear in mind that there are more sets of twins to appear and that this is comedy, not of the cheap canned laughter variety, but of the type written by the bard himself.
When we first meet Dora it's the seventy-fifth birthday of the twins, and coincidentally the centenary of Sir Melchior Hazard. The women are invited to Melchior's party and are planning to take Wheelchair along with them. 'Wheelchair' is otherwise known as Lady Atalanta Hazard, Melchior's first wife who's a cripple and lives with Dora and Nora. But as they get ready for the party Dora tells us the history of the family. It's a century of the theatre and a richly comic, frequently bawdy tale of the intertwined fortunes of the Hazards and the Chances.
In the hands of a lesser writer this would be farce - of the slapstick comedy variety - but it's lifted way above that by Angela Carter's erudite and gloriously exuberant writing. I lost count of the 'nods' to a multitude of Shakespeare plays and the wit is sharp and aimed to perfection. Dora varies between remembering what happened in exquisite and accurate detail - and being a ridiculously unreliable narrator but with a wonderful sense of keeping going, no matter what. She can evoke a time - or a place - in remarkably few words.
But it's not just Dora who shines through - Sir Melchior Hazard is all and more of the theatrical giants. You'd hesitate to put a name to them, but quite a few come to mind. There's his third wife, much younger than Hazard and famed for her television commercials - forever known to the twins as 'My Lady Margarine'. Her son, Tristram has a tawdry television show and spends the night his girlfriend goes missing in his Aunt Saskia's bed. She's a celebrity chef with some morally dubious ways.
It's not a quick or an easy read. It's far too good for that. It's a book to savour and enjoy, to think about phrases such as:
He'd always steered clear of Hamlet, though and now he was too old; perhaps he was nervous the critics might think he wasn't half the man his mother had been.
He was a lovely man in many ways. But he kept on insisting on forgiving me when there was nothing to forgive.
Delightful. I've picked two quotes, almost at random, but this is rich prose which demands thought. It's also wickedly funny and a great read.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a cop to the Bookbag.
Although not quite in the same league we've read a couple of other books about the acting profession lately. You might like to have a look at The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott and The Forgotten Lies by Kerry Jamieson.
You can read more book reviews or buy Wise Children by Angela Carter at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Wise Children by Angela Carter at Amazon.com.
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