My latest book purchase was on a bit of a whim, as recently I’ve been spending more money on poetry than prose. Here, I made an exception.
Little bit of background on my kind of fairy tales: I am Grimm girl, not a Hans Christian Anderson girl. I used to have a book of fairly gruesome English fairy tales when I was about twelve, and they were brilliant too. I would say Carter leans more towards the Grimm versions of the tales most people know, but with definite modern twists. If I had to sum up her style in one word? Refreshing.
The style of writing is very elaborate in most of the stories. Its much more convoluted that I’m used to, and I swung wildly between loving and hating it. In some stories it made the whole atmosphere gothic and strangely beautiful, in others I found it made the tale harder to follow. The tone is definitely reminiscent of the classic fairy tale mode of story telling. There really is something magical in many of the stories, but with a grittier edge that makes them more adult. They’re more focused on the female body and sex for one.
The best stories within the collection, I felt, were ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (this takes up the majority of the book), ‘The Erl-King’ (personal favourite there maybe), ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, and ‘Company of Wolves’. Some stories in the collection actually complement each other, such as ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, and ‘The Tyger’s Bride’. MINOR SPOILER AHEAD! In the first of the above the transformation from beast into human moves in one direction, and the second it moves in the reverse direction. So, the character who would be Belle in Beauty and the Beast becomes a beast at the end.
Carter’s tales aren’t just retellings though, they’re also completely new stories in their own right. They all seem to fit into this odd universe of fairy tales we know, referencing snatches of them, but also standing apart from them. Multiple tales allude to several different classics, and I found it fun trying to pick out which stories had been woven in. Its like someone took several t-shirts, chopped them up, and fashioned one weird patchwork jacket. Some of the stories take turns you simply didn’t expect (I won’t ruin which ones), but I feel as if all the twists and turns were satisfying. You might find some of the stories harder to get into than others. I found this with Puss-in-Boots, and was actually tempted to skip over it. Comedy or farce isn’t my favoured style, but once I was a couple of pages in the tone grew on me, and I ended up laughing along with this much bawdier re-telling. I’d highly recommend you get your hands on this collection if you can.