Eight Books that Inspire Me #2: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

I'm looking at the books and authors that inspire me as both a writer and a reader. I've chosen eight of my favourite novels and they're presented in no particular order.

"There is a striking resemblance between the act of love and the ministrations of a torturer."

I was first introduced to Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber while I was studying at university. Knowing nothing about the book or Carter at the time, I sat down to read the first of its ten short stories, and a few hours later, had read the entire collection.

The Bloody Chamber is all about fairy tales, with Carter reworking such classics as Red Riding Hood, Beauty & the Beast, Blue Beard, and Puss in Boots. These are not direct retellings of those tales. Instead, Carter explores and challenges the way women are represented in fairy tales, giving her protagonists strength and heroism. In the Erl-king, the nameless narrator wanders into a forest where is she seduced by the Erl-king. When she learns that he plans to trap her by transforming her into a bird, she murders him, freeing herself and all of the birds he has already captured. In The Company of Wolves, a reworking of Little Red Riding Hood, the traditional huntsman character is revealed to be the wolf/werewolf, who 'Red' ably tames through seduction.

Angela Carter. From the Fay Godwin Archive at the British Library

Angela Carter. From the Fay Godwin Archive at the British Library

Relationships, marriage, sex and sexuality, oppression and corruption are all explored in The Bloody Chamber. What I love most about Carter's writing is her ability to fill her stories with rich and complex themes, while conjuring up Gothic worlds that are at once striking, vivid and sensual. Her writing is both complicated and beautiful. The way she describes the worlds and characters she creates is closer to poetry than prose, and those worlds and characters are all the more powerful for it.

The stories in The Bloody Chamber are dark and animal, intelligent and challenging. If you like your fairy tales to havebite, you could do a lot worse than grabbing a copy of Angela Carter's seminal collection.

Have you read The Bloody Chamber? What did you think? What books inspire you?