Van has finished reading…Wise Children by Angela Carter

5 May

I’ve long held the belief that Angela Carter would have been both great fun to know and also slightly terrifying. Her novel, Wise Children has confirmed me in this belief. It’s a very funny book, though frequently in a quite brutal, almost gallows-humour fashion. Then there’s that sense that far more is going on than a reader can reasonably hold in their head. Family sagas may well be your thing but be warned, in Wise Children – as in a good many turns of Shakespeare – one can never be too sure exactly who is related to whom, and how. Threading beneath all this, when the veils are stripped away is a truly emotional story of rejection, longing and the bittersweet taste of reconciliation.

The story comes via Dora, one of the Chance twins, and is told in the voice of your nan, just at that moment where you discover she actually lived a life, and fully, before you were born. Dora and Nora are the illegitimate offspring of Shakespearian Ack-tor, Sir Melchior Hazard. Though actually it’s his twin, Peregrine who acknowledges the twins when Melchior denies them. Being mouths in need of feeding, the girls find their way to the dance hall stage rather than the Theatre Royal, and become dancers. Being a lance with which to fasten William’s words to the sticking plate, there are of course legitimate twins (fine word, ‘legitimate!’) – who aren’t quite what they seem. What occasions the telling of the tale? On the day of their seventy-fifth birthday arrives an invitation to celebrate their father’s centenary. Is this the acceptance they’ve waited so long for? Can they risk another shameful brush-off? Who will survive the poisonous air that broils between the half-sibling twin-sets, the Chances and the Hazards? Are they even related? One thing can be guaranteed: you’ll have a lot of fun finding out.


There was a little pulse of serendipity for me in that I found myself reading this book, without the prior knowledge of its subject, on the 23rd April, the very day on which the action takes place. In this anniversary year, where so many great things are being said about and done to the memory, the mythology and the works of Shakespeare, I can thoroughly recommend adding Angela Carter’s Wise Children to your obeisance to the great man, wherein you’ll discover the gamut of familial relationship from so many of his plays. I suspect Angela Carter loved a good bit of Shakespeare – I doubt someone with lukewarm feelings would’ve been able to stay the course and produce such a book. You’ll also discover a woman of prodigious talent, knowledge and insight. The only sadness is that this was her last novel. But what a novel!
Wise Children was originally published in 1991 by Chatto & Windus

I read the Vintage paperback, published in 1992 ISBN:0099981106


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