Wise Children by Angela Carter

I’m going to come out and say it, I think Angela Carter is one of the most under-rated authors of the 20th century.

Up to now, I’ve known her work through her wonderful short stories and their various adaptations. Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves based on Ms. Carter’s The Bloody Chamber was rewatched so many times, my VHS copy faded away. Years ago, I saw San Francisco’s Word for Word theatre company perform The Fall River Axe Murders about the events leading up to the murder of Lizzie Borden’s parents.

Then I started reading her stories. Love them.

Yesterday, I finished reading her novel, Wise Children. Loved it.

Wise Children is the fictional memoir of Dora Chance, one half of a dancing twin sister act. The two are now 75, never married, living in a small London house with their father’s first former wife. Their father is his generation’s great Shakespearean actor. Their grandparents were their generation’s great actors. Dora and her sister Nora are passable dancers, relying on the twin sister gimmick to work in a few movies, many stage reviews, and finally burlesque shows and England’s music hall diminish in popularity throughout the 20th century.

The novel is a series of parties, huge lavish affairs filled with scandalous and scandalized theatre and film types. Everyone has a secret, probably something to do with who their real parents are. Everyone is after someone. Rising up the ladder of success or falling off of it completely. It’s all a huge, glorious mess. Very funny in places, entertaining throughout.

I loved it.

The little bit of research I did this morning revealed that Angela Carter started writing Wise Children after being diagnosed with lunch cancer. That she got such news and decided to write a comedy that has nothing to do with cancer says something about her, I think.

Meanwhile, I think there is a film adaptation of Wise Children from a few years ago. I’ll be looking for it on-line later today.

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