I liked the look of A Card from Angela Carter when I saw it in the library. It’s a small book that slots easily into a pocket or handbag and is very short – just 103 pages. I thought it would be a nice change after some of the very long books I’ve been reading recently.
I also liked the concept – a study of Angela Carter using the postcards she had sent to Susannah Clapp, who is the literary executor of Angela Carter as well as being a publisher’s reader, editor and critic. She and Angela had been friends for a number of years.
Now, Angela Carter is one of those writers whose books I’ve been meaning to read and have never got round to them, so I thought this book, which forms a sort of biography would give me at least an elementary picture of her life and work. And that’s just what it did. Now I really do want to read some of her books – Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales and Nights at the Circus, for example. I really find it hard to realise that it is twenty years ago now since she died at the age of 51 from lung cancer. The fact that she had never made the shortlists of the Booker Prize led to the foundation of the Orange Prize, but this book, slight as it is, is the only biographical work to have been published.
Susannah Clapp uses the postcards Angela had sent to her ‘form a paper trail through her life.’ Sent from various places around the world some have a full message, some only a few words, which Susannah uses to paint a picture of what Angela was like, a ‘great curser’, capable of the sharpest of remarks, clever, unpredictable, quirky, and funny. She laughed and talked a lot. Using the postcards as a trigger, the book is mainly Susannah’s recollections of Angela, full of stories of her family life, her political views and what the critics made of her work. There’s also a considerable amount, considering the length of the book, about her physical appearance.
As for the postcards, I was disappointed at the black and white reproductions. I was also disappointed that as she is not a cat lover, Angela had not sent her any cards featuring felines, although she did send them to her friend and publisher Carmen Callil. Angela herself loved cats and her first book written at the age of six was called ‘Tom Cat Goes to Market’, which her mother eventually threw away!
Susannah Clapp, whilst allowing that Angela’s fiction and prose did not go unacknowledged while she was alive, considers that her work did not receive the acclamation it deserved because:
She was ten years too old and entirely too female to be mentioned routinely alongside Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan as being a young pillar of British fiction. She was twenty years too young to belong to what she considered the ‘alternate pantheon’ of Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing and Muriel Spark in the forties, when ‘in a curious way, women formed the ascendancy.’ (page 3)
This is an entertaining and vivid account in miniature which left me wanting to know more and to read Angela Carter’s books for myself.