A review of a book that took me ages to read and has been the first completed book of the month (I have finished another since then, and am half-way through the next one). I’m still, somewhat horrendously, on last January’s books, but I seem to recall a book-buying hiatus at some time in the year, so am hoping to hop forward at some point and not be 11 months behind! See below for the first of the Christmas influx – and what a lovely beginning …

Edmund Gordon – “The Invention of Angela Carter”

(21 January 2017, from Ali)

The first proper biography of the author, even though it’s 25 or so years since she died, and very much concentrating on, as the title suggests, her own self-invention and people’s invention of her myth. Gordon takes as one of his themes her own idea that we all dress up in our personalities and perform femininity, etc. and aims to show this through the book; it’s a good theme to use, especially as he points out at the end that “She’s much too big for any single book to contain”.

He does also talk about her unreliability in her writings about herself and points out in the text when two accounts she makes in, say, a letter and an article don’t agree, or her stated memory clashes with one of her friends’. This make it an interesting and shifting work. He’s taken pains to track down old friends, editors and lovers and is clear about his process; I did find it odd, then, that at one point he mentions how “she would have viewed” A.S. Byatt’s work – surely better to quote from a source or leave that out, given the attention to reliability of sources (the endnotes are done in that modern way of quoting a page number and bit of text but there was nothing for this). Gordon also annoyed me near this assertion by implying that Barbara Comyns (loved by many fellow bloggers as well as me) was just a precursor to Carter and is not read much now. Humph.

There is an awkward encounter with Iris Murdoch, which I love, although (sorry, another although), IM appears in the index several more times relating to very light references that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to be indexed, once for a reference to John Bayley being her husband. This seemed a little OTT but better too many than too few entries, I suppose. To be more positive, I loved her friendship with Salman Rushdie (and had no idea he accompanied Bruce Chatwin on his “Songlines” travels) and her dealings with Virago when that came about, and it’s meticulous on her contracts, contacts and trips and will be a great resource for scholars in itself.

I can’t say I warmed to Angela, not that I need to adore the authors whose work I enjoy, but I also wasn’t moved to go towards the books of hers I haven’t yet read, although I do intend to re-read “The Passion of New Eve” next year and I’d be interested in picking up some of her collected non-fiction. The rise of her mythical status as a white witch or fairy godmother (mainly seemingly based on her letting her hair grow out white) was well explained and her relationship with her main nurse brings a different angle to her last illness.

A decent book which I just didn’t love as much as I’d have liked to. But I learned a lot.

We had our BookCrossing Christmas meal on Friday and I was absolutely thrilled to receive from my friend Lorraine (who we’ve known since way back in 2005 when we moved to Birmingham) two wonderful pre-loved books from my wishlist. “Gone to Earth” by Mary Webb will be a wonderful dark Shropshire tale and Marcus Crouch’s “The Nesbit Tradition: The Children’s Novel 1945-1970” is so far up my street.

And look inside:

The Nesbit book used to belong to Manchester University’s John Rylands Library and the Mary Webb has the signatures of a past owner and a photo pasted in of the woman who played Hazel Woodus in the film. In fact, one of Lorraine’s relatives was an extra, too, as were many of her friends in the village. How wonderful (the bookmark, hand cream and (not pictured) 85% dark chocolate were all  most welcome too. Let the Book Flood begin!