The Bloody Chamber

03/04/2009 § Leave a comment

I was not a fan of The Company of Wolves. Definitely not. Sometimes I don’t think Hollywood has any idea what to do with certain material. i.e. The Brothers Grimm, Dune, 1984, all of Kurt Vonnegut Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and on and on and on…

I had heard about The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from some essays that I recently read and did a quick search about it. Slightly annoyed that she was the writer of aforementioned Neil Jordan’s stinker of a movie, I decided to get the book and give it a go.

After reading the title story The Bloody Chamber I was was starting to think this Angela Carter was a genius. Then I read her two versions of Beauty and the Beast and was certain. Unfortunately nothing gold can stay. Thanks Stevie Wonder and Ponyboy Curtis. And of course Robert Frost for writing that poem.

The Bloody Chamber is a retelling of Bluebeard. Oh that Bluebeard. Such a joker. It’s told from the new wife’s point of view and it really succeeds in capturing the crazy gamut of her feelings. From horror to revulsion to acceptance. It’s a strange line of narrative to go down because I feel like she must have been fairly screwed up in the first place for her to be a willing victim in the end.  I accidentally pictured the tomb of the dead wives exactly like Vincent Price’s oubliette in The Fall of the House of Usher…complete with Iron Maiden and woman inside. When our heroine discovers the wonder emporium for killing wives she just kinda takes it in stride. She freaks a little but not what you’d expect. I’d have probably pissed my pants, gone totally bonkers, then ran into the woods mumbling something about Cthulhu. Whenever I’m scared it always comes back to Cthulhu. But that’s just me. I must say though It was thoroughly enjoyable read and incredibly well written…at times wordy but often that is packaged with really flowery prose.

The Beauty and the Beast retellings are equally good, though a little shorter. In a particularly nice touch the Beast wins the girl from her drunk old man in a game of cards. *wink Why is the Beast playing cards anyways?

So. I don’t know. I really enjoyed these three stories. Definitely worth reading.

Then came Puss in Boots. I never really cared for this story in the first place and was very skeptical, then ultimately disappointed. I almost couldn’t read it. The story is told by Puss and ugh! I don’t know. Why is it every time someone writes from an animals point of view…when there aren’t other anthropomorphized animals for them to talk to, they turn them into horrible caricatures of precocious children….or in this case a horrible version of Peppy Le Pew. No doubt because the origins are French but…merde!

Proud of his fine, white shirtfront that dazzles harmoniously against his orange tangerine tesselations (oh! what a fiery suit of lights have I); &tc.

Oh yeah. Puss sometimes speaks in the third person.

…and on and on and on for fifteen pages. Puss connives to steal away some girl for his master. And everyone is having sex. And Puss is licking himself like a jerk. So bad. Shockingly bad. I don’t even want to mention the rest in this collection. The story that The Company of Wolves is based on is in here and I think those involved with that movie should have gone with The Bloody Chamber….but that was like 1984 so I was three. Eh. Maybe that’s unfair. The wolf stories are okay I guess.

There’s all sorts of critical readings for stories as dense as these. I don’t want to get into a feminist breakdown or a postmodern reading or anything….but it’s all there and I don’t want to talk about it. It’d probably be an annoying discussion.

I really do recommend the first few stories. And she is an incredible author. Upon recommendation I will next read her novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Probably not for a while, but it’s on the list. The title alone merits a look.


The Castle of Otranto

02/21/2009 § Leave a comment

“Manfred’s heart misgave him when he beheld the plumage on the miraculous casque shaking in concert with the sounding of the brazen trumpet.”

Can’t really argue with how awesome that sentence is. And then when one knows that the “miraculous casque” with said plumage is a giant helmet that has fallen atop the pro/antagonist’s son it only gets better.

Even though this sentence rates off the charts, I still don’t know what I think of this book. Yes, it is the “first” gothic novel and all that, but it all is kind of too convenient. The plot is just a nonstop barrage of crazy devices devices pushing it forward and accelerating after every push. I think I read recently that it seemed like the characters were racing to the finish, and I think this is a pretty accurate description.

The novel begins with a dad, Manfred, who’s running around preparing for his sons wedding. He’s kind of a schmuck and his son is bogus and ugly but he dotes on him because he is the son. He also has a beautiful daughter who he pays no mind to because she’s a girl. Then the son gets crushed under a giant helmet. And the dad basically loses his mind, wants a divorce from his honorable wife, and then marry his son’s fiance. She runs and is saved. There is a giant hand in there a few times on a stairway. A peasant ends up being royalty. Girls fight over him. &tc.

I really like giant helmets and hands appearing in a castle. And I like secret passages and mysterious old castles as well. What I don’t like is a bunch of magical elements and people, particularly Manfred (the main idiot), who act completely irrationally and then in the last few pages lots of ’em die and then it gets nicely explained in the last few paragraphs.

So. It is pretty good and it sort of sets up a lot of standards I guess, as far as the gothic novel is concerned. Lots of atmosphere and passages and apparitions &tc.

Next it’s onto The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis.

The Baron in the Trees

01/18/2009 § Leave a comment

I find it difficult to write about The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calivino. If I use my recently coined system of arbitrary assessment, the number will be nigh infinite. I would be listing hundreds of pluses for each page, and at 217 pages in the edition translated by Archibald Colquhoun, I would end up with the previously mentioned “nigh infinite” number. The rating of  Calvino’s unequaled story would shame all the other stories in this blog, thus rendering this blog frivolous.

Instead of rendering my blog frivolous (and it’s arguably frivolous now), I’ll forgo the system of arbitrary assessment and simply attempt to tame my emotions long enough to wrestle them to the (web)page.

The story is simple. The Baron in the Trees is the life story of Cosimo. Cosimo decides as a boy that he is going to live among the trees. Added to this tree plot is the Enlightenment, a dog, some love, and a brother narrator. Aside from having a special place in my heart for second person narratives, I’m also terribly sappy (-2) and love me some high romance.

I often consider a story of this caliber and think, “my goodness, wouldn’t it be easy to come up with a somewhat unique plot and fill it with a few simple details and then I’d have myself an impossibly amazing story too.” I think that sometimes. I really do. *sigh*

Still, I don’t know what to say about this book other than it is beautiful. Truly beautiful. When broken down it could seem trite. Everything that gets broken down seems trite, and if it doesn’t it is suspect. This book is like your favorite song, not mine because we have different tastes. Well, I guess it’s like my favorite song too, but only for me, you see. It’s like that because the best songs are simple and often full of cliché, making them universal. It is the whole composition that moves one to tears, not its elements.

Song comparison not doing it? Let me try in terms of theater.

My biggest fear when reading a book that I so adore is that when I reach the end it will disappoint. Most often it does. Endings can rarely equal the journey forward. The ending of The Baron in the Trees, like the beginning and middle, was inexplicably lovely and simple, painting an ear to ear smile across my face.

Sure, smiles are common when reading a book, but when the memory of a scene can force that same smile to return it is that that makes this book beautfiul.

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