Angela Carter died in 1992, but her novels, short story collections, and essays live on, attracting new generations of readers to her often dark, always quirky worldview. Perhaps best known for her fiction (Wise Children
, Nights at the Circus
, Burning Your Boats
, Saints and Strangers
, among other titles), Carter was also a gifted and prolific essayist. Two earlier collections, Nothing Sacred
and Expletives Deleted
, contained much of her journalism and nonfiction; in this latest collection, editor Jenny Uglow has followed Carter's lead, categorizing her work in offbeat, provocative ways. Divided into five main sections ("Self"; "Body Languages"; "Home and Away"; "Looking"; "Stories and Tellers") and many subsections, Uglow has presented essays that range from the early 1960s right up until her death.
Carter certainly wears her convictions on her sleeve; in the 1984 essay "An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and Other Dishes" she decries the "widespread and unashamed cult of conspicuous gluttony" that has sprouted up among yuppie "foodies" in England--people for whom "food is a cornerstone of this hysterical new snobbery." After describing an article in a gourmet magazine that subtly threatens dire consequences for the ignorant host who cannot tell a factory-made brie from a farm-made one, she observes dryly: "This mincing and finicking obsession with food opens whole new areas of potential social shame. No wonder the British find it irresistible." She brings the same laserlike analysis to her 1975 discussion of women's cosmetics, "The Wound in the Face": "[Manufacturers] do not understand their own imagery, any more than the consumer who demonstrates it does. I'm still working on the nature of the imagery of cosmetics. I think it scares me."
Whether she's discussing feminism, her own life history, travel to far-flung corners of the world, or the work of other writers such as Grace Paley or F. Scott Fitzgerald, Angela Carter does so with both precision, intelligence, great wit, and occasional flashes of lyricism. Consider this meditation on the London zoo: "When darkness falls and the crowds are gone and the beasts inherit Regent's Park, I should think the mandrills sometimes say to one another: 'Well, taking all things into consideration, how much better off we are here than in the wild! Nice food, regular meals, no predators, no snakes, free medical care, roofs over our heads... and, after all this time, we couldn't really cope with the wild again, could we?' So they console themselves, perhaps. And, perhaps, weep." And so readers may console themselves with this fine collection of essays. Something to remember Angela Carter by. --Alix Wilber
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