Bloody good bits of low life

Shorter courses from the late English outsider fare best. By Michele Roberts

Burning Your Boats

Collected Short Stories

by Angela Carter

Chatto, pounds 20

Now Angela Carter is dead, we can begin to measure the extent of our loss as all her work is resurrected into print. While we mourn the person, we can celebrate the books that prove her to be very much alive in the realm of language, her true and lasting home.This first volume of the Collected Edition displays the short stories which were her best work. It draws together the early, experimental pieces, the subsequent four collections Fireworks, The Bloody Chamber, Black Venus, and American Ghosts, and some uncollected stories published between 1970 and 1981.

While the early novels dazzle with intellect, sometimes their wit can be too coolly Grimm, their verbal tricks and games too lacking in feeling. The later novels occasionally go to the other extreme, apeing a panto jollity over-rich with thigh-slapping high camp. Only the short stories reach perfection, as she subjected her talent for wild, baroque improvisation to the discipline of the story form, its hard balletic grace. I've never managed to finish a single novel by Angela Carter, but I re-read The Bloody Chamber and Black Venus with deep pleasure.

It's exhilarating to read her afterword to Fireworks, appended here, and see her as a young writer pitting herself against the literary tradition and starting to map her territory: "Gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder, tales of terror, fabulous narratives that deal directly with the imagery of the unconscious - the tale has relations with subliterary forms of pornography, ballad and dream, and it has not been dealt with kindly by literati.'' For some years, Angela Carter was not dealt with kindly by literati either, and one reason must be her enjoyment, visible in all her work, of "low'' forms and "low'' life.Carter stands outside normal English notions of class, just as she is unable to write anything cosy or naturalistic, just as she feels obliged to mock all female pieties, feminine or feminist. From the outset, she struck an outsider's pose and relished it.

The early pieces show her learning her craft, whether juggling with Victorian slang or writing journalistic prose on encounters in Japan. There are some fine comic moments of unconscious or deliberate pastiche - Cold Comfort Farm crossed with Nightwood. But she steadies herself, refines her movements and gestures, and gives us The Bloody Chamber.

Carter was one of a group of female writers, among them Sara Maitland and Emma Tennant, who were re-working the short story to encompass the re-telling of Greek and Christian myth, but she made the fairytale her own. The fact that a subsequent generation of writers and readers can take for granted that Little Red Riding Hood fancied the wolf, or that buried inside a male Beast is a tender Beauty, is a measure of her originality.

My favourite among these topsy-turvy revelations of modern desires and anxieties is the title story. "The Bloody Chamber" exposes the lure that Bluebeard has for a certain sort of girl, whisking her into sex-as-danger, fin-de-siecle decadence, and all the horror of the denouement of the original. Carter thoroughly chills your bones with terror, then releases you into the modern twist of a happy ending. The stories in Black Venus widen out the range, to take in a final wolf tale, an avenging look at Baudelaire's black muse and mistress Jeanne Duval, a jolly backstairs romp celebrating good sex and good cooking, an exquisite portrait of a modern flower market in Samarkand haunted by the wife of Tamburlaine. An additional treat is provided by Salman Rushdie's sharply loving, perceptive introduction to the volume, which works as an elegy as well as a fine, graceful piece of criticism.

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit