I wanted to read Susannah Clapp’s book A Card from Angela Carter since reading TJ’s review on her blog My Book Strings during Angela Carter Week last year. I’m glad I finally got a chance to do so. It’s a small but exuberant little book. Very much in the spirit of Angela Carter herself. Susannah Clapp is Angela Carter’s literary executor. She was one of the co-founders of the London Review of Books. She writes theater critics for different newspapers.
A Card From Angela Carter is biographical but it’s not a biography as such. It’s an homage and much more like a patchwork, loosely inspired by a collection of postcards Angela Carter sent Susannah Clapp over the years of their friendship. Reading these vignette-like biographical snippets is like watching a photo develop in a darkroom. With every card, with every story of Angela Carter’s life, the writer emerges more and more distinctly.
Clapp touches on subjects as wide as Angela Carter’s taste, her books, her love of kitsch, her exuberant nature, her use of swear words, her politics, her feminism, the fact that she was never nominated for the Booker, her choice to go grey, her teenage anorexia, her travels, her stay in Japan and the US, her thoughts on housework and sex.
You learn a lot about Angela Carter when reading this. About her marriage, divorce, second marriage and late motherhood. About her relationship with her parents. Her studies, her interests. I wasn’t aware that the Orange Prize was founded because Angela Carter’s work was never on the Booker shortlist. Clapp’s book is fascinating, because Angela Carter was such a fascinating author but what I liked best is that the book puts you in the mood to go and pick up Angela Carter’s work. And it certainly makes you wish you’d known her.
A Card From Angela Carter is inspiring in many ways. It works as an homage and a teaser that tempts you to go deeper and to (re-) read her work and the books about her.
27 thoughts on “Susannah Clapp: A Card From Angela Carter (2012)”
Thank you for this lovely review. I’ve thought for a long time I’d like to read this book and you’ve convinced me! 🙂
Thanks so much, Kaggsy. I hope you’ll enjoy it as well. I think Angela Carter would have been pleased with the way Clapp chose to write it.
Oh, this sounds like a fascinating book! I have an unread Angela Carter (The Magic Toyshop, which I bought after reading your wonderful review last year), but I’ve made a note of this one. I’ve seen Susannah Clapp’s reviews in The Observer and The Guardian.
It was pretty fascinating. I would have wished it had been longer. The Magic Toyshop is so impressive. I hope you’ll read and review it.
I’m sure I will. 🙂
I’m happy you got to read this book, and even happier that you liked it! Like you, I really liked that Angela Carter becomes more and more real as you read Clapp’s book. I think I would have really appreciated Carter’s sense of humor, had I ever met her in person.
I’m glad you wrote about it. I hadn’t heard of it before that.
She sounds like she had a terrific sense of humor. And didn’t absolutely not care what others thought. A free spirit.
I love the comparison of the darkroom with reading letters, Caroline. This book sounds so interesting and your review makes me want to open up a Carter novel very soon.
I thought it was great to approach and biography like this. Not chronologiccal but adding bits. It really gave you the feel of seeing her emerge.
Like I just said to Ali, Heroes and Villains is my favourite.
Oh this does sound interesting although I have only read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter so far.
It’s very interesting and would probabaly tempt you to get others of her books. Heroes and Villains is my favourite.
I think I’ve read some Angela Carter short stories but that’s it.
I’m not sure she’s really a writer for you.
What a great and creative idea to put postcards together like this in attempt to tell us something about Angela Carter.
I have not yet read Angela Carter but I really want to. Her books look so good. They seem to the sort of fiction that I would really enjoy.
I thought so too. Obviously she chose the postcards she sent with care.
I think anyone interested in speculative/weird fiction and or philosophy can find a lot in her work. The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffmann and Heroes and Villains would be great starting points for you.
Beautiful review, Caroline. I have always loved Angela Carter and her unique perspective on things-literary and it is so nice to know that her literary executor has written a book about her. This book sounds so wonderful and I think Carter’s fans will be thanking Susanna Clapp for it. I loved your description of how the book develops like a photo in the darkroom – so beautifully put! It is sad that Angela Carter’s work never got shortlisted for the Booker prize. I remember not-so-long back, the Booker prize was dominated by male writers with some exceptions. Thanks for writing about this book. I would like to read it sometime.
Thanks, Vishy. I’m very glad she wrote this book. I’d love to read a longer biography as well but there’s nothing out there yet, I think. It wouldn’t be an easy biography to write.
It seems her fisrt book was very well received but then not so much anymore. Luckily, we have the Orange Prize now – or rather the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Still, in a way I’m upset that it was necessary to have two prizes.
I still got a book withessay on her writing which I haven’t finished yet.
I read this a while back and loved it. My hope now is that somebody will write the ind of biography that Angela Carter so deserves.
Glad to hear that, Jane.
I hope for that biography as well. I’m sure there are reasons why it hasn’t happend yet. Maybe Susannah Clapp’s writing it.
This sounds like a great book. I remember reading TJ’s review of it and liking it. You know I wasn’t a great fan of Carter’s work but she does have an amazingly rich vocabulary. I’d love to read this at some point. And collecting postcards and writing a book about them is a great idea for a book. I miss receiving postcards, letters, handwritten things.
I remember you didn’t get along so well with her. I love her use of langugae. It’s so rich.
I want to read more of her. I used to get so many postcards and letters and it’s over now. That’s why people join postcrossings – if that’s the right name.
I still do a lot of handwriting but only for myslef. It’s a bit sad. I bought a nice book about writing letters not too long ago. I’m going to dig it out right now.
I got along with her short stories but Nights at the Circus, the novel, not so much.
Email killed the romance of the handwritten letters, didn’t it? I’ve heard of postcrossing but never tried it. I would love to receive letters again.
A book about writing letters? That would be nice to see.
Danielle has signed up for postcrossings and shares her postcards on her blog. I haven’t foind the book yet but if it’s good, I’ll write about it,
I loved this too! I thought it was a brilliant example of what a short biography could do, and why sometimes they are more appetising and engaging than long form.
I’m so glad to hear that. I was wondering whether you’d read it as I know your interest in biography.
I think it’s still very rare that somenone tries new ways to write a biography.
I was just thinking about Angela Carter–I have been thinking of reading fairy tales (just thinking at this point….I seem to be in the middle of too many books at the moment….) and she always comes to mind. I think she is/was such a fascinating woman and have always been curious about her life. I seem to ‘collect’ her work but am so slow to read it–she’s wonderful, but for me she is someone you don’t just breeze through. I am adding this to my wishlist however!
I think you’d really like this. She’s not a breezy read at all. Very rewarding but you’ve got to work for it.