It could be almost any Angela Carter, I love every word, but this was my first. It opens the summer that Melanie is fifteen, in her bourgeois bedroom, as narcissistic as any young lovely, parading naked in front of a mirror, pulling classical poses for an imaginary series of great masters and feeling 'pregnant with herself, bearing the slowly ripening embryo of Melanie-grown-up inside . . . '
As Melanie cavorts on the treacherous brink between child and woman, so the writing teeters in a strange space between waking and dreaming. 'Teeter' is entirely the wrong word, of course, this being Angela Carter: it sizzles and sparks and burns, both hallucinatory and profound.
After a night dressing up in her mother's wedding dress when, under the gaze of the moon, she gets blood on its hem, Melanie and her siblings are plucked from their antiseptic world of freshly laundered handkerchiefs and thrust into the exotic filth and tyranny of her Uncle Philip's lair. And what a twisted, festering, nightmarish place the magic toysop proves to be. There's Auth Margaret, frail as a pressed flower and struck dumb by her husband's cruelty, forced every Sunday to wear his wedding gift of an eldritch collar of hinged silver and moonstones that squeezes her throat so she can manage only crumbs; there are the Irish brothers Finn and Francie who reek of animal maleness, and then there is grotesque Uncle Philip himself, who seems to have been hewn out of thunder, pulling all the strings as he launches Melanie into a nightmare world of puppetry and desire that is as wildly erotic as it is macabre.
Angela Carter was 'the Godmother' of Virago, there from the beginning, advising, contributing, 'omnipresent' as Carmen Callil says, so this allegorical tale of a young girl coming of age in a patriarchal society (where she is forced literally to become a puppet) seems like a good one to celebrate here.
The 2011 Mslexia Writer's Diary contains a series of monthly inspirations from current Virago authors who each discuss a Virago Modern Classic.
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