Monday, November 2, 2009

Shaking a Leg by Angela Carter

I've been reading this book for what seems like FOREVER. It's a hefty tome, weighing in at 608 pages. 608 pages of NON-FICTION. I thought it would be tough for this fiction lover to get through so much non-fic reading. The Read-a-Thon definitely helped...I read the bulk of this book then. But, really, when it comes down to it, the simple magic of Angela Carter's prose style, coupled with the abundance of interesting ideas and topics she covered, made this book a breeze to read.

The book is a compilation of her non-fiction writings (she also wrote fiction, which is now all over my TBR list), specifically articles she wrote for New Society in the seventies and eighties, her literary criticism (LOVED IT!), and a few speeches she gave at various events. Carter was a feminist. If you are not a feminist and/or don't want to read some, ahem, quite acidic invectives against the male-dominated world of the seventies and eighties, you might want to skip this work. While not all of Carter's pieces contained these sentiments, it was a large part of who she was, and a thread of it does seem to run through her work.

That being said, I LOVED this collection. I loved Carter's writing style, which was facetious and intelligent and hilarious when she poked fun at the intelligentsia or the fashion industry, or whatever subject she was taking on. Carter's writings are divided into topical sections: "Self" - pieces about her home life and family; "Body Languages" - pieces about fashion, eating disorders, food writing (before it was popular); "Home and Away" - travel writing and works on England, including a couple political pieces, Japan, her home away from home, and America, where she also lived for a time; "Looking" - pop culture, including music, animals, movies, art, television, etc.; and "Stories and Tellers" - lit crit, reviews, essays on authors.

Particularly, I loved the review of Linda Lovelace's autobiography and the essay on Wuthering Heights. I'm not sure I can convey what I liked so much about the body of work Carter produced. I think it was mostly her voice, her attitude. She wasn't afraid to throw a good "fuck" into her work, when it was really needed (and, frankly, I believe that sometimes it's really needed!). She wasn't afraid to let her voice be heard, in a time when women were still struggling for that right. She had guts, moxie, and I love it. The only thing that was a stumbling block for me was the fact that I don't know enough about England - geography, politics, history - to get some of the references in her work.

Four and a half out of five Whatevers. This book might be a bit much for any but the Angela Carter completist. If you'd like a taste of some of her work, but don't want to commit to this behemoth, try one of her shorter volumes of essays. Try some of her fiction; I plan to. Recommended for feminists of all stripes, people who enjoy having their eyes opened to new ideas, really anyone who wants a new view of the 70's and 80's - being a child of that generation, I can honestly say that Carter made me think about those decades in a completely different way.

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