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Angela Carter on the latest thing

Angela Carter, 5 December 1985

Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity 
by Elizabeth Wilson.
Virago, 272 pp., £11.95, November 1985, 0 86068 552 7
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... The serious study of fashion​ has repeatedly had to justify itself,’ observes Elizabeth Wilson in the introduction to Adorned in Dreams, a study of fashion which, in itself, may help to render such justifications redundant; her book is the best I have read on the subject, bar none. Fashion is part of social practice: it is an industry whose demands have helped to shape modern history, and choosing our clothes is the nearest most of us will ever get to practical aesthetics ...
... In a Sight and Sound interview with Richard Roud Bertolucci says he first had the idea for his film La Luna during a session with his psychoanalyst. ‘I suddenly realised that I had been talking about my father for seven or eight years – and now I wanted to talk about my mother.’ It seems to have taken them an unconscionable time to get around to discussing the person Freud calls a child’s ‘first seducer’, the authentic, original source of love and hunger, but Bertolucci certainly now attacks the subject with brio ...

Paley’s People

Angela Carter, 17 April 1980

The Little Disturbances of Man 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 192 pp., £2.50, March 1980, 0 86068 127 0
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Enormous Changes at the Last Minute 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 208 pp., £1.95, May 1979, 0 86068 108 4
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... What can put you off Grace Paley’s stories is their charm. ‘An Interest in Life’ in the collection called The Little Disturbances of Man begins: ‘My husband gave me a broom one Christmas. This wasn’t right. No one can tell me it was meant kindly.’ It is so scrupulously disarming an intro that it is bound to put people who like Joan Didion very much on their guard ...

Potatoes and Point

Angela Carter, 22 May 1986

The History and Social Influence of the Potato 
by Redcliffe Salaman, edited by J.G. Hawkes.
Cambridge, 729 pp., £35, November 1985, 0 521 07783 4
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... Eighty-odd years ago, when my father was a little boy, he would sometimes ask: ‘What’s for dinner?’ And my grandmother would reply: ‘Potatoes and point.’ That is, she would point to the hook in the rafters where the ham, if they’d had one, would have hung. Then they’d eat potatoes. This didn’t happen often: the family was relatively prosperous petit bourgeois and, besides, the coast of North-East Scotland, where they lived, had never become as totally dependent on the potato for nourishment as other communities in Europe, most notably Ireland ...

Absurdities

Angela Carter, 2 July 1981

Original Sins 
by Lisa Alther.
Women’s Press, 608 pp., £6.95, May 1981, 0 7043 2839 9
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Amateur Passions 
by Lorna Tracy.
Virago, 192 pp., £7.95, April 1981, 0 86068 197 1
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... Original Sins is a big, fat novel that looks as though it should be sold by weight – ‘a couple of pounds of fiction, today, please.’ It has the air of the novel as commodity, of an item designed to be sold, a programmed bestseller. Amateur Passions is a slender, almost anorexic collection of short stories, each one pared down to the glittering bone, fiction produced by authentic internal compulsion ...

Doing it to Mama

Angela Carter, 19 May 1988

On Birth and Madness 
by Eric Rhode.
Duckworth, 222 pp., £14.95, July 1987, 9780715621707
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... This book begins like a novel: ‘A woman attends a funeral. The coffin is lowered into the grave. A man approaches her and says: “He was not your father.” ’ But the reader’s expectation of continuous narrative is excited only to be disrupted; Eric Rhode prefers to work in discrete sections of speculation, each independently, often curiously titled – ‘Father into Foetus’, ‘Eyes Pregnant with a Mother’s Babies ...

I could have fancied her

Angela Carter, 16 February 1989

Beauty in History: Society, Politics and Personal Appearance c. 1500 to the Present 
by Arthur Marwick.
Thames and Hudson, 480 pp., £18.95, September 1988, 0 500 25101 0
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... Back in the Sixties, a decade which evidently I enjoyed rather more than did your contributor, Janet Watts (LRB, 8 December 1988), Kenneth Clark published a contribution to art history called The Nude. A disgruntled friend of mine opined that if the author had any integrity, he’d have started off his opus: ‘Wankers, ahoy!’ (Oh, the jaunty irreverence of those days of intellectual ferment, and its reassertion of the best characteristics of British humour – funny, vulgar, true ...

Noovs’ hoovs in the trough

Angela Carter, 24 January 1985

The Official Foodie Handbook 
by Ann Barr and Paul Levy.
Ebury, 144 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 85223 348 5
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An Omelette and a Glass of Wine 
by Elizabeth David.
Hale, 318 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 7090 2047 3
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Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook 
by Alice Waters, foreword by Jane Grigson .
Chatto, 340 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2820 8
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... Be modern – worship food,’ exhorts the cover of The Official Foodie Handbook. One of the ironies resulting from the North/South dichotomy of our planet is the appearance of this odd little book, a vade mecum to a widespread and unashamed cult of conspicuous gluttony in the advanced industrialised countries, at just the time when Ethiopia is struck by a widely publicised famine, and the rest of Africa is suffering a less widely publicised one ...

The End

Angela Carter, 18 September 1986

A Land Apart: A South African Reader 
edited by André Brink and J.M. Coetzee.
Faber, 252 pp., £9.95, August 1986, 0 571 13933 7
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Where Sixpence lives 
by Norma Kitson.
Chatto, 352 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 7011 3085 7
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... The situation in South Africa is such that, by the time this review appears in print, the two books with which it deals may already belong to the past, both in their different ways witnesses to the haunted tensions, torture and bloodshed of the period of minority rule. The anthology of fiction, A Land Apart, was, say its editors, André Brink and J ...

Wolfing it

Angela Carter, 23 July 1987

Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades and Apulia 
by Patience Gray.
Prospect, 374 pp., £17.50, November 1986, 0 907325 30 0
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A Table in Provence: Classic Recipes from the South of France 
collected and illustrated by Leslie Forbes.
Webb and Bower/Joseph, 160 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 0 86350 130 3
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The Joyce of Cooking: Food and Drink from James Joyce’s Dublin 
by Alison Armstrong, foreword by Anthony Burgess.
Station Hill Press, 252 pp., $18.95, December 1986, 0 930794 85 0
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... I bought my first cookery book in 1960, as part of my trousseau. It was called Plats du Jour, or Foreign Food by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd, a Penguin paperback with a seductive pink jacket depicting a large family at table – evidently not a British family, for its members, shirt-sleeved, aproned, some of them children, were uncorking bottles, slicing bread, eagerly tucking their napkins under their chins, faces aglow with the certain knowledge their dinners would not disappoint, which was, in those days, extremely rare in this country ...

Brooksie and Faust

Angela Carter, 8 March 1990

Louise Brooks 
by Barry Paris.
Hamish Hamilton, 640 pp., £20, February 1990, 0 241 12541 3
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... I once showed G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film version of Wedekind’s Lulu plays, Louise Brooks’s starring vehicle Pandora’s Box, to a graduate class at the University of Iowa. I was apprehensive; these were children of the television age, unfamiliar with the codes of silent movies, especially of German silents, the exaggerated gesture, the mask-like make-up, the distorted shadows ...

Ludic Cube

Angela Carter, 1 June 1989

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words 
by Milorad Pavic, translated by Christina Pribicevic-Zoric.
Hamish Hamilton, 338 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 241 12658 4
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... According to Apuleius, Pleasure is the daughter of Cupid and Psyche – of Love and the Soul, that is, a sufficiently elevated pedigree, one would have thought. Yet the British still put up a strong resistance to the idea that pleasurability might be a valid criterion in the response to literature, just as we remain dubious about the value of the ‘decorative’ in the visual arts ...

Adventures at the End of Time

Angela Carter, 7 March 1991

Downriver 
by Iain Sinclair.
Paladin, 407 pp., £14.99, March 1991, 0 586 09074 6
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... Iain Sinclair, in the profane spirit of Surrealism, has chosen to decorate the endpapers of his new work of fiction with a dozen unutterably strange picture-postcards. They show scenes such as that of six men, heavily veiled, veils held down by brimmed hats, posed with long-barrelled rifles. And two men in grass skirts, with feathers in their hair, intent on a game of billiards ...

Colette

Angela Carter, 2 October 1980

... Colette is possibly the only well-known woman writer of modern times who is universally referred to simply by her surname, tout court. Woolf hasn’t made it, even after all these years; Rhys without the Jean is incognito; Nin without the Anais looks like a typo. Colette, Madame Colette, remains, in this as much else, unique. Colette did not acquire this distinction because she terrorised respect language out of her peers, alas: by a happy accident, her father’s name doubles as a girlish handle – and a very ducky one, too ...

Unhappy Families

Angela Carter, 16 September 1982

The Beauties and Furies 
by Christina Stead.
Virago, 329 pp., £3.95, July 1982, 0 86068 175 0
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... To open a book, any book, by Christina Stead and read a few pages is to be at once aware that one is in the presence of greatness. Yet this revelation is apt to precipitate a sense of confusion, of strangeness, even of acute anxiety, not only because Stead has a devastating capacity to flay the reader’s sensibilities, but also because we have grown accustomed to the idea that we live in pygmy times ...

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