I started reading this book on 31 December and finished it this week. It’s not the smallest book, but 450 pages doesn’t usually take me several months. Especially not when it comes from one of the 20th century’s greatest authors, Angela Carter. So what gives?
Well, two things. One: this is a collection of more than 100 short stories, and I do like to spread out short stories by reading one or two per sitting, even when the shortest are less than a page long. Two: perhaps more pertinently, these stories were collected and curated by Carter, not written or even edited by her. So while they share her taste in the weird and feminist, they do not exhibit her writing skill – more noticeably so in some cases than others.
Carter spent many years collecting these stories for what was originally two separate books published by Virago. She sought translations into English, ideally transcriptions from oral storytellers, from all over the world and the result is truly the most international collection I have ever read. For example, the final chapter’s stories are labelled as: Yiddish; Norwegian; Africa: Bondes; USA; Africa: Hausa; Chinese; Surinamese.
I shouldn’t complain that life has been full of holidays and social events and lovely weather to be enjoyed (and work), and to be honest it hasn’t slowed down my reading particularly. But it does mean I am woefully behind on reviews, so here are some brief thoughts on recent reads.
The Sandman Vol. 2 The Doll’s House
by Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III
How to explain The Sandman? It’s a whole mythology where Death and Dream and Desire and several others are immortal non-human siblings, sharing or sometimes squabbling over their power/responsibility. This review contains some minor spoilers of the first volume.
Dream, or Morpheus, has recently awoken from his entrapment by a magicians’ circle to find the Dreaming in chaos. While setting it all to rights, he senses that there is a Dream Vortex in the shape of a young woman, Rose Walker. She is trying to put her family back together, unaware of the danger that surrounds her or of Dream trailing her closely. Rose is a fantastic character and there are some wonderful comic touches here, such as the serial killers’ convention. But really it’s the combination of gorgeous art (with wonderful covers by long-time Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean) and writing that make this a great book.
“It seemed like the late autumn wind blew them in that night, spinning and dizzying from the four corners of the world. It was a bitch wind, knife-sharp and cutting, and it blew bad and cold. And they came with it, scurrying and skittering, like yellow leaves and old newspapers, from a thousand places and from nowhere at all. They came in their suits and their tee shirts, carrying rucksacks and suitcases and plastic bags, muttering and humming and silent as the night.”
From the opening shadow theatre sequence, Under the Dark Moon‘s atmosphere of macabre beauty combined with the blackest humour is clear. The silhouettes of elegant dancers are chased across the stage by giants. A child won’t stop eating, becoming grotesque.
When “Old Victor”, the ringleader/storyteller (see what they did there?), introduces his troupe, he invites us – even implores us – to delight in their misfortune, to laugh at their pain and sorrow. They have suffered for their art, and he positively encourages that. One by one he tells their stories, and while there is plenty of clowning fun, they don’t shy away from plumbing the depths of human despair.