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Book Review

The Bloody Chamber

JUST so you know, this was not a book I had expected to see myself reviewing any time soon. Perhaps several re-readings and a B.A. later, one would be tempted to try a detailed thesis just to sort out the myriad ideas that emerge with each evaluation. As it is, learned literary enthusiasts will probably set out to lynch me for daring to wreak havoc on this masterpiece so.

“The Bloody Chamber” is a collection of 10 short stories in which you shall recognize tales that you, in all likelihood, grew up with. Rest assured, though, you will not find yourself looking at Sleeping Beauty or Red Riding Hood in the same light ever again. The innocence that characterized them in childhood shall be lost entirely but Angela Carter gives them a new, sometimes sinister, exclusively adult appeal.

“The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” is a modern-day “Beauty and the Beast” where Carter subtly reverses the conventional roles of man and woman, in true feminist fashion. It is She who is empowered, free to come and go as she pleases and He who is imprisoned within his 'beastliness' and must wait for her to return and rescue him. In “Puss-in-Boots” we find a feline with an amusing, if bawdy, sense of humor, who attempts to regain his master's favor and secure their future by rescuing the latter's sweetheart from her tower prison and her troll of a husband.

Elements from “Sleeping Beauty”, “Jack and the Beanstalk” and vampire legends are interweaved dexterously to create “The Lady of the House of Love”. There, it is not death that the young soldier saves her from, but a never-ending existence as a creature that cannot know love. As for the bloody chamber, it comes up in every story, in numerous contexts.

The most graphic is its literal representation the macabre tomb in which a sadistic Marquis hides the mutilated corpses of three wives, and from which the fourth must save herself at the expense of the innocence that must inevitably be traded in for knowledge.

Each story is presented so very differently from the rest and the variety in the author's use of literary devices is demonstrative of her prowess. Of course, sentence-long synopses of each story can hardly do justice to that.

It is unnerving, beautifully so, to see how Angela Carter deftly alters the plots of these well-loved tales, subtly rearranging the characters and symbols to cast light on an aspect that we never knew could have existed.

The language is stunning; the imagery toys with the senses, drawing one in and out of forests haunted by Erl-Kings, châteaux of the undead and the subhuman, and, of course, bloody chambers. Suggestive allusions play on every sentencewolves-in-disguise, roses that 'bite', ruby chokers like slit throats. The stories also share multiple themes on varying levels.

As each layer is peeled away, they explore the feminist perspective and condemn the male perception of women's roles. They question the meaning of what is animal and what is human, and the nature of innocence and experience.

Bear in mind, though, this is not a book meant to be skimmed through over a cup of coffee or to be read at bedtime (trust me; I've tried both). It certainly is not something I would categorise under 'light reading' so if you happen to be the average reader looking for simply 'some good literature' I would suggest something less intense for now.

Come back to this when you have time enough, and experience literary or otherwise. Then, at the very least, “The Bloody Chamber” will fascinate you with its disturbing and singular style.

By Risana Nahreen Malik


I found it, dust-laden, in the school's book sale. My choices were evident- it was either this or a combo of Enid Blyton and Jeffrey Archer. There was no hint of its Pulitzer winning success, on the cover, only creases that didn't help its cause. But I bought it anyway.

One thing that is truly alluring about the novel is its use of facts to animate the characters. From Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks brings to life March, the absent father gone to war, with a blend of inventiveness and factual buttressing.

Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the American Civil War of 1861. In a country shredded by violence and hatred, March struggles to extend his ideals as a Union chaplain, while at the same time defend his most ardently held beliefs.

His narrative begins with cheerful letters home of a firmament adorned by a gliding sun, then gradually revealing to the reader what March does not to his family: the cruelty and racism of Northern and Southern soldiers, the violence and suffering he is powerless to prevent and his reunion with Grace, a beautiful, educated slave whom he met years earlier as a Connecticut peddler to the plantations.

He is soon assigned a post as a teacher to a cotton plantation that employed free slaves (the contraband); a place that transforms him further. The readers are treated to snippets of March's earlier life, his wooing of the passionate Marmee, his unfortunate business venture with the notorious Brown, his friendship with Emerson and Thoreau and his disputes with his unprincipled aunt, who offers to 'feed' little Meg and save them of the trouble.

Despite the transitions from ample luxuries to the adversities of a chaplain life, March remains optimistic throughout the novel though tangled between love and guilt, courage and fear. On the farm March encounters people of diverse dispositions from Ethan Canning, a ravenous businessman, to Jesse, a young slave eager to learn and Zannah, Jesse's mute mother who suffers his loss yet saves March's life.

When a Confederate attack on the contraband farm lands leaves March fatally wounded in a Washington hospital, the first-person narrative switches to Marmee, who describes a different version of the years past and an agonised reaction to the truth she uncovers about her husband's life.

'Some steps require more effort than others' and Brooks walked that path. The novel is captivating as a story, on an historical level, and as a continuation of a well-loved favourite. And more so for those unaware of the intimate horrors of war; the turmoil, betrayals and gory partings of those associated. Often the idea of human suffering seems more of a concept than an actual fact. I'd recommend the book to those hoping to embrace the truth.

By Shehzeen Samarah Hussain

First time

IT was easy to miss her. Standing in a pool of sweating limbs and annoyance, voices raised in varying levels of displeasure as parents and students tapped feet and gesticulated away the hour, it was easy to miss her. An island of quiet she was, coffee-tone arms folded across her chest, chewing on her bottom lip, almost oblivious to the slowness of the proceedings.

I took one look and my feet waltzed me over to her, my mind in mental freefall, the terms of my life for the moment dictated by my heart. I fell in line behind her, wordlessly, stepping around the scowling woman shadowing her side. I was sure my feelings were painfully undisputed.

Perspiration stained the back of her uniform a darker blue, her long hair plaited with blue ribbons, loose strands framing her face, getting in her eyes. I watched, papers clutched loosely in hand, as she turned her head to talk to her mother, or to the people passing us by.

'What are you doing here?' someone hollered from down the hall, and she held up her own sheaf of papers and waved them around. 'Got to change the subject on my statement of entry!' and as she grinned she took a step back, and right before her mother's aghast eyes bumped right into me.

Papers fell, inches from being crushed underfoot by the stampede of students jostling elbows to get to class. We bent, in unison, fingers scrabbling to salvage our futures, and in our united purpose I felt an absurd sense of joy that refused to be snuffed even in the waves of ill will emanating from her mother.

Head ducked, long hair concealing her face, she looked at me and rolled her eyes. The shrug of her shoulders, the almost imperceptible lift of her slender bones, told me that her mother was a Type. I smiled back. 'I know what you mean,' I wanted to say, but my larynx died on me.

We stood up, and said nothing for a while. 'When will you learn to be more careful?' her mother hissed, the colour of her ill temper almost as palpable as the vermilion that stained her part. Another shrug of the shoulders, and as the mother gripped her daughter's arm and tried to steer her away from my offending presence my heart gave one last cry of desperation and sank to the pit of my stomach.

But the heavens, they stayed her feet. She turned around again, the heat giving her face an iridescent sheen, her smile, for whatever reason, wider. 'Are you changing your subject of entry, too?' she asked, lilting voice boring a hole right through me.

And my voice, I couldn't find it anywhere. I could only nod, conversational skills languishing in some recess of my mind, but it rolled right off of her. She looked down at her own papers, gestured widely. 'I think I heard someone say we have to go to the British Council for this. Do you think you could come with us? I've never really been there before.'

Audible intake of breath, from both ends, as her mother hissed her disapproval and I made a sorry attempt to conceal the elation that seeped through my pores like a teabag in hot water. 'Yeah, I don't mind,' I said, the nonchalance hanging awkwardly from my tongue. She beamed, obviously pleased, before her mother's talons were upon her again. And in a swish of sari starch and sandals slapping on linoleum mother and daughter were off.

If the rumble of the crowd was supposed to die down, and the sunlight that streamed shamelessly down on the steaming asphalt was suddenly to be overcome by the shimmer of new love I must have missed it. But in the wake of her departure, watching her round the corner and disappear into yet another swarm of limbs and annoyance, it came back to me again. The streak of vermilion on her mother's scalp, the iron wedding bracelets that hung indiscreetly from matronly arms.

'You did what?' I could almost hear my mother yelling at me. The crash of porcelain on tile as another piece of wedding china landed on the floor. 'What did you say the girl was?'

Dark clouds on the horizon, undoubtedly. I stared unbelievably back at her. And, barely conscious of the sea of voices and limbs that swarmed around us, I nodded back my affirmation.





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