Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories


One of our most imaginative and accomplished writers, Angela Carter left behind a dazzling array of work: essays, citicism, and fiction. But it is in her short stories that her extraordinary talents—as a fabulist, feminist, social critic, and weaver of tales—are most penetratingly evident. This volume presents Carter's considerable legacy of short fiction gathered from published books, and includes early and previously unpublished stories. From reflections on jazz and Japan, through vigorous refashionings of ...

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One of our most imaginative and accomplished writers, Angela Carter left behind a dazzling array of work: essays, citicism, and fiction. But it is in her short stories that her extraordinary talents—as a fabulist, feminist, social critic, and weaver of tales—are most penetratingly evident. This volume presents Carter's considerable legacy of short fiction gathered from published books, and includes early and previously unpublished stories. From reflections on jazz and Japan, through vigorous refashionings of classic folklore and fairy tales, to stunning snapshots of modern life in all its tawdry glory, we are able to chart the evolution of Carter's marvelous, magical vision.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Carter's world is strange, dangerous, and beautiful."
—Alison Lurie, The New York Times Book Review

"A treasure chest of literary and aesthetic experience … mysterious, glamorous, beautiful."
—Carolyn See, The Washington Post

"Carter's ability to probe the secret places in the human psyche, where mysterious erotic longings and unacknowledged links with the unearthly lie buried, verges on the supernatural."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Her imagination was one of the most dazzling of this century."
—Marina Warner

"An amazing plum pudding … you should not miss this book."
—Margaret Atwood, Toronto Globe & Mail

Bruce Barcott

Reading this collection is like wandering through the Angela Carter Museum. The tour begins with her early works from the 1960s and 1970s, which display the rough-edged elements that the British writer would later polish into masterpieces of short fiction. "A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home," in which a pompous mother gets her comeuppance, contains characters straight out of the Brothers Grimm (a father of 23 children lists their names on the brim of his hat) and an ending naughty enough to satisfy fans of Roald Dahl's adult tales. "A Victorian Fable," told in an invented vernacular, hints at the postmodern narrative play that made Carter the darling of associate English professors. Her aptly-titled first collection, "Fireworks" (1974), contains language so full of flash and dazzle -- "at all hours a crepuscular gloaming prevails" is one of her more subtle phrases -- that one cries out for a crisp edit by the ghost of minimalist Raymond Carver.

Once we step into what a curator might call Carter's mature period, however, everything comes together. With her rich language, delicious sense of irony, and playful feminist spirit, Carter created fairy tales for a postmodern age. In "The Bloody Chamber," she rewrote the Bluebeard legend and gave the old boy a taste of his own blood. In "The Werewolf," she brought a horrific twist to the tale of Little Red Riding Hood -- and did it in two pages flat. Her final three collections--"The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories" (1979), "Black Venus" (1985), and "American Ghosts and Old World Wonders" (1993) -- reveal one of our era's great writers at the height of her powers. While her contemporaries were turning out K-Mart realism in bare-bones language, Carter was a fictional maximalist who bathed in luxurious sentences and wrote about women raised by wolves.

In her final years Carter's best stories weren't quite stories at all, more like exquisite short histories. "The Fall River Axe Murders," for instance, details the life of Lizzy Borden down to the missing teeth on her comb and ends moments before the infamous murders. It's an amazing piece of writing -- all prelude, and yet completely satisfying. The only regrettable thing about Burning Your Boats is that Carter's death in 1992 means that this is the complete collection. No matter. I'll be reading it again. -- Salon

Candace Smith
Shortly before her death in 1992, British author Angela Carter collected these tales of cunning, magic, and myth spanning cultures from the Sudan to "USA Hillbilly." All are told from a feminine, though not necessarily feminist, perspective, and sorted into chapters by the common folklore themes of strong minds, black arts, beautiful people, mothers and daughters, married women, and useful stories. Each is labeled by country of origin, accompanied by brief but perceptive appendix notes taken from Carter's writings, and illustrated by folk-art woodcuts. Alert readers will spot the germs of plots that appear in the more well known stories of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Carter's attention to voice makes her collection especially suitable for read-alouds or storytelling. A solid purchase for any folklore collection.
Margaret Atwood
"An amazing plum pudding...you should not miss this book." -- Toronto Globe and Mail
Carolyn See
"A treasure chest of literary and aesthetic experience...mysterious, glamorous, beautiful." -- Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
Historical events and personages viewed as in a distorting mirror, and beasts of prey endangered by encounters with their chosen quarry, are representative of the charmingly deranged fiction of the late Carter (1940-93).

Carter's impertinent revisions of cherished conventions and beloved traditional stories do not elicit mild or neutral reactions from readers. As her friend Salman Rushdie suggests in his warm introduction to this rich collection of 42 stories (spanning the years 1962-93), one is either pleasurably seduced by her languorous imagery and overripe vocabulary, or made slightly ill by her intemperate romantic sensuality: you love her or you hate her. Even those attuned to Carter's perfervid imagination will have to pick and choose their way through a minefield of knotty prose and naughtier conceits, from several decidedly precious early tales through the contents of her acclaimed story volumes (such as The Bloody Chamber and Saints and Strangers) to a final three uncollected pieces that are even more hothouse-baroque than her usual work. If you can bypass the gamy contes cruels that show Carter at her worst, there's much to enjoy in her wry feminist response to the smug mandates of sexism, racism . . . come to think of it, most -isms. "The Bloody Chamber" amusingly reinvents the Bluebeard legend, featuring a virginal bride reluctant to become yet another passive victim; "The Fall River Axe Murders" examines Lizzie Borden from a sardonic female perspective; "Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream" retells Shakespeare's comedy from the viewpoint of the changeling child for whom fairy rulers Oberon and Titania contend. And in the amazing "Our Lady of the Massacre," Carter employs the familiar narrative of (American) Indian captivity to create in a mere 14 pages a brilliantly compact near-novella.

A book of wonders, then, even if too cloying for some tastes—and a welcome occasion for reassessing the work of one of the most unusual writers of recent emergence.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140255287
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 573,639
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Angela Carter (1940 -1992) wrote nine novels and numerous short stories, as well as nonfiction, radio plays, and the screenplay for Neil Jordan's 1984 movie The Company of Wolves, based on her story. She won numerous literary awards, traveled and taught widely in the United States, and lived in London.
Born in Bombay in 1947, Salman Rushdie is the author of six novels, including Grimus, Shame, The Satanic Verses, The Moor's Last Sigh, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet, and a volume of essays, Imaginary Homelands. His numerous literary prizes include the Booker Prize for Midnight's Children and the Whitbread Prize for The Satanic Verses.

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Table of Contents

Burning Your BoatsIntroduction by Salman Rushdie

Early Work, 1962-6
The Man Who Loved a Double Bass
A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home
A Victorian Fable (with Glossary)

Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces, 1974
A Souvenir of Japan
The Executioner's Beautiful Daughter
The Loves of Lady Purple
The Smile of Winter
Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest
Flesh and the Mirror
Elegy for a Freelance

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, 1979
The Bloody Chamber
The Courtship of Mr Lyon
The Tiger's Bride
The Erl-King
The Snow Child
The Lady of the House of Love
The Werewolf
The Company of Wolves

Black Venus, 1985
Black Venus
The Kiss
Our Lady of the Massacre
The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe
Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream
Peter and the Wolf
The Kitchen Child
The Fall River Axe Murders

American Ghosts and Old World Wonders, 1993
Lizzie's Tiger
John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
Gun for the Devil
The Merchant of Shadows
The Ghost Ships
In Pantoland
Ashputtle or The Mother"s Ghost
Alice in Prague or The Curious Room
Impressions: The Wrightsman Magdalene

Uncollected Stories, 1970-81
The Scarlet House
The Snow Pavilion
The Quilt Maker

Appendix: Afterword to Fireworks

First Publications

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2001

    Big smile, bloody stories

    Excellent collection of Carter's strange visions of feminist texts/fairy tales/20th century commentary/This books has the alltime best weddingnight story,-'The bloody chamber',-the stories which Carter later incorporated to her film script 'the company of wolves',-are also great,-If you like Thomas Pynchon, Carter seems to be on a similar wavelength,-she has a clear gift for description,-The story 'john ford's 'tis pity she's a whore'is worth the price of the book itself if you are a fan of classic cinema as well,---

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    Posted August 7, 2010

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