This gripping biography, brimming with new material, comes 24 years after Carter’s death and is the first full account of her life...[Gordon] has undertaken feats of scholarship and written an admirably clear-sighted book ... The Invention of Angela Carter is much more about purposeful choices and intellectual energy than about sorcery or fairy charms. Carter’s gleeful whimsicality is here but it’s a grace note. Gordon mistrusts the tendency to mythologise Carter as a white witch of modern literature, and thinks the provocative, high-risk elements of her feminism have too often been flattened to fit political readings of her work ... There have been, and will be, more cracklingly brilliant discussions of Carter’s fiction than Gordon gives here. And if you want a biography like a Carter novel, with striking contrasts and luxuriant prose, all 'blood and brains,' flair and fiesta, you may need to look elsewhere. Gordon’s achievement, however, is tremendous. From baroque entanglements of material and controversy, he brings living contours into view.
Edmund Gordon has written a terrific book — judicious, warm, confident and casually witty. The ratio of insight to literary-world gossip, of white swan to black swan, is as well calibrated as one of Sara Mearns’s impossible balletic leaps ... This bio unfolds a bit like one of the fairy tales Carter shook to release its meaning. The pages turn themselves ...After her death, Rushdie wrote that 'English literature has lost its high sorceress, its benevolent white witch.' This biography is witchy, in the best sense, as well.
Gordon makes no trite elisions between the fiction and the life, but it is hard not to look at his illustrations in which Carter balloons and shrinks, becoming by turns vampish, boyish, girlish and bohemian, without thinking of all the metamorphoses and chimeras that recur in her work ... Gordon faces thorny ethical questions in dealing with a life in living memory. Paul Carter, who declined to talk to him, has since died, and Gordon teases out the tangled facts with gentle even?handedness, setting aside some of what Angela said as bravado, for she had been much in love when she got married ... Gordon feels free to take issue with the doctrinaire strain of feminist critique that attempts to shoehorn Carter into a politically correct shape she doesn’t fit ... Gordon knows he has caught his subject on the wing of posterity, that it will take another generation to see her “in the round” and other biographies will appear; but they will not supplant this one, which has the irreplaceable imprint of a life still warm to the touch of memory.
That word, invention, suits. Carter was a writer before all else, and her primary activity was sitting alone in a room and writing—inventing and, in many respects, reinventing … [Gordon’s] diligence is truly impressive, yet he makes no presumptions, especially about Carter’s process, no interpretive leaps from life to the bizarre art that emanated from it … Gordon, before this known primarily as a book critic, was appointed to his daunting task by Susannah Clapp, executor of Carter’s literary estate...What Gordon doesn’t have—because he didn’t know her, and/or didn’t spend his impressionable years idolizing her, mythologizing her, before coming to this project—is his own story about her, and that may be the implicit brilliance of Clapp’s choice of him for this task, this cornerstone of the cumulative biography to come.
It shows the faults endemic to that genre: too much detail, together with a suspicious vagueness about family members who are still alive. But it reclaims Carter from the fairy kingdom and places her within what sounds like a real life ... A recurrent theme of Gordon’s book is Carter’s position as a woman in her profession. This is tiresome but unavoidable: in the nineteen-eighties, there was a much-trumpeted spurt of energy in English fiction, with the rise of a number of talented young men, notably Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, and Julian Barnes.
Carter had no time for female melancholy. A woman whose quiet demeanor belied her forceful mind, Carter was that rarest of things—a happy writer. She followed her desires—for travel, for learning, for (younger) men—with little hesitation or regret … This is the Carter that comes through in Edmund Gordon’s The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. Gordon’s biography, the first in-depth treatment of Carter’s life, is both thorough and careful. Gordon is primarily concerned with emancipating her from the mythologizing descriptions that proliferated, especially after her death in 1992 … Sex may have been Carter’s great subject, but autonomy was her true concern. She called sex ‘the most elementary assertion of the self.’
The Invention of Angela Carter, while an exceptionally thoughtful and engrossing biography, has left me wondering whether it’s such a good idea to read about contemporary writers one admires. In the case of Carter, Gordon traces an inner life of intense self-scrutiny, marked at times by melancholy desperation, an almost hysterical search for love, and periodic callousness toward family and friends ... As Gordon, a lecturer at King’s College London, repeatedly points out, any hard-line view of Carter as a champion of gender politics diminishes her as a writer. She was, he stresses, never ideologically pure and 'never saw the oppression of women as categorically different from other forms of oppression' ... As I finished Edmund Gordon’s admirable biography, it struck me that Carter’s constant refrain of love — yearned for and lost — as well as her use of symbolic autobiography in her fiction and a general approach to life as performance, reminded me of just one other great and daring 20th-century writer: Colette.
...[a] sympathetic, cleareyed new biography ... A judicious and diligent biographer, Gordon faces the obvious criticism that, as a man, he can’t fully appreciate Carter’s work. He argues convincingly that his sex shouldn’t be held against him, noting that Carter 'never thought of gender as the most important division between human beings,' and that 'almost all writing involves an act of identification' with people who are unlike oneself. Indeed, if there is a problem with this well-researched, carefully assembled book, it’s not that the author is a man; it’s that his approach doesn’t quite measure up to his subject. If Gordon has passionate feelings about Carter’s work, his utterly balanced and evenhanded treatment leaves no air for them to escape. Carter herself was so funny and stylish a writer that one wishes a few more sparks would rise from these cool pages. Thankfully, quotations from her letters and journals are plentiful.
...admiration ensures that Gordon is a careful, considerate and sympathetic reader of Angela Carter’s stories—of real life and fiction – and makes this a marvelously readable, strangely sympathetic biography of a woman who clearly could be often hell to live with (even leaving aside the chain smoking), but also, endlessly fascinating. It also provides needed context for the striking stories of The Bloody Chamber, stories we will be taking a later look at. It’s an early contender for my Hugo ballot next year.
As Edmund Gordon emphasizes in his new biography, The Invention of Angela Carter, the allure of remaking oneself remained a constant throughout her life … The critic John Bayley infamously accused her novels of succumbing to ‘political correctness’...Gordon intelligently contests this claim, pointing out that Carter was always an iconoclast and ?arguing that to charge her novels with following a party line is ridiculous. But if Carter’s political commitments came into conflict with her literary imagination anywhere, it would be her last two.
Few biographies are as consistently spot-on as this one ... This bio never flags, never condescends, and never loses its pace. One might not read this longish book in a single sitting, but it’s a page-turner highly recommended to anyone looking for an entertaining and intelligent read.
Gordon has done yeoman’s work crafting an authorized, sensitive, and well-written biography of an ebullient writer ... Gordon’s narrative has a beautiful, effortless flow as he seamlessly moves back and forth from the life to the works. Expansive and lavish, this outstanding biography does much to demythologize Carter, revealing her to be a singular writer of her time.