A Card from Angela Carter by Susannah Clapp

Angela Carter and I have had a somewhat up and down relationship recently. I was always convinced I loved her work, but my reading of “The Passion of New Eve” shook that conviction a little. However, good relations were restored when I had a wonderful reading experience with “Fireworks”, and so I’m now once again convinced that I really do enjoy her books!

I do still have a number of Carter titles lurking, but for some reason this little book caught my eye recently – why I picked it up at this particular moment in time I have no idea, but it turned out to be the perfect read at the perfect time.

Susanna Clapp, Carter’s friend and literary executor, had received a number of postcards from the author over the years, and after Carter’s death she revisited these. Using them as a jumping off point, she recreates the woman she knew in what are in effect a series of snapshots, stimulated by the postcards themselves. Some of the postcard images are reproduced in the book (albeit in black and white) which adds an extra element.

What emerges is a moving and surprisingly detailed portrait of the Angela Carter that Clapp knew; with all her faults, idiosyncracies, humour and insight on show, the book gives us a privileged peek into Carter’s personality. The book is only 103 pages long, but somehow feels as if it reveals the real person behind the public persona; the short reminiscences build up a remarkably vivid portrait of a strong and striking woman. And Clapp reminds us of what a transgressive writer Carter was, spelling out just how radical her prose and her concepts could be:

Let us allow Bluebeard’s last victim to be rescued not by a man but by her mother. Let us load the prose with red stains and howls, wet lips and shudders, and make evident what is buried in the stories we read to our children. Let us take the girls of traditional fairy tale and give them some force of character…

Her political affiliations are shown, too, and one particularly outstanding quote reminds us that in the 1980s Carter was saying very prophetically,

The worst things are things we probably don’t know about. They’re to do with surveillance and they’re to do with the Secret Service, and they’re to do with the inaccessibility of information…

Plus ca change…

Susannah Clapp does not shy away from showing us Carter in her last days, as her health failed on the way to her tragically early death; and the final sequences relating her funeral and memorial are desperately poignant. However, what remained with me most strongly from reading this little gem of a book is the image of a fiercely intelligent, yet somehow vulnerable woman who lived life her own way and created the books she wanted to create. It’s an essential read for anyone who loves Carter’s work and has definitely increased my eagerness to get more of those books of hers off the shelves.

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