reviewed by Lyndon Riggall
In my first year at University I studied fairytales, and more specifically Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a book which is arguably the poster-child of fairytale re-imaginings. Carter writes well, and in many cases her stories spin beautifully away from tradition while remaining neatly tied to the history of the tales they retell.
Yet I’m sorry to say that I didn’t really like them and they were an immense struggle to study. I found them elusively constructed and occasionally prepared to sacrifice good narrative in exchange for overtly feminist plots. So when Angela Slatter’s The Girl With No Hands arrived at my door, and billed the other Angela as one of its key influences, I settled down to read the book convinced I knew the way it was going: bestial males and victimised women. Truly Slatter was in trouble: my verdict was as good as written before I had even started.
For those of you who will read The Girl With No Hands I will not spoil the conclusion of the first story, but just like The Bloody Chamber, it opens with a reimagining of the famous tale Bluebeard. And you know what? It was brilliant. I was stunned by the story’s twist – really, truly, I had been tricked by my own pre-conceptions, and the tale was stronger because of it. Story after story continued to be excellent, and while perhaps ‘The Chrysanthemum Bride’ was my favourite, it’s hard to say because I was completely hooked by many others, not least of all the wonderfully dark adventure of romance with a zombie in ‘The Dead Ones Don’t Hurt You’.
Despite the book’s plain appearance, the Australian Slatter’s stories are brilliantly plotted, and in my humble opinion she surpasses Angela Carter in every respect. They have the same sensualness and unflinching attitude to sex, they have the same strong-willed and sometimes tragic heroines at their centre. But Slatter is more tightly written, more carefully edited and packs more punch. She is quite simply a better and more enjoyable read.
There may be those who disagree with me about Angela Carter’s work*, and this I fully respect. But whether you admire The Bloody Chamber or not, if you are interested in moving on to some beautifully written and more modern takes on traditional fairytales, you could do much, much worse than to pick up a copy of The Girl With No Hands.
Lyndon Riggall is an avid sci-fi, fantasy and horror reader, and an aspiring writer. He collects his thoughts on life and books on his blog and on Twitter. He is not yet dead, but remains unlikely to hurt you.
*Ms LiteraryMinded will be sharing her own thoughts about Angela Carter in the next couple of days.