The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography by Edmund Gordon
“I need to be extraordinary,” wrote Angela Carter as a young woman. In both her life and her writing, she succeeded, said Alexandra Harris in the Financial Times. Having escaped from a suffocating south London childhood into a “constraining marriage”, the novelist then took an “improbable leap” by moving to Japan and embarking on a “passionate affair” with a younger man. For the rest of her short life (she died of lung cancer aged just 51, in 1992), she continued to “experiment and to startle”; producing such dazzling, mould-breaking novels as Nights at the Circus and Wise Children; marrying a, much younger, builder, and having a first child at the age of 43. In the first full-length biography of Carter, the literary critic Edmund Gordon sets out to unpick her image as the “white witch of modern literature”. Without entirely ignoring his subject’s “gleeful whimsicality” – the Victorian bric-a-brac in her study, the circulating budgerigars – he pays detailed attention to her working life and her finances. The result is a biography “brimming with new material” which is both “clear-sighted” and “gripping”.
Given the “dreary reverence” that has turned her into a “plaster saint”, I understand Gordon’s desire to “demythologise” Carter, said Rachel Cooke in The Observer. But did he have to be quite this “traditional”? The book’s chronological structure leaves little room for its subject’s “iconoclasm” and “wildness”. It doesn’t speak to her “violent, restless spirit”. I disagree, said Philip Hensher in The Spectator: this is “an exemplary piece of work”. Gordon has “patiently investigated many corners of Carter’s life” and has interviewed both those who loved her and those who “felt wounded by her”. The result is “rich and polyphonic” – a biography which leaves you with the sense that “nothing has been concealed”, and which “everyone should read”.