on May 28, 1999
Jump on board for a rocket ride through the 20th Century with the Chance sisters as your conductors. Stopping at Brixton, Brighton, New York, Hollywood and all places in London, Carter captures the zeitgeist of the years, as she weaves her tale 'with a carillion of laughter and a kerchief of tears'. The story of twin sisters, destined to the 'jam down' side of life, two feisty chorus girls who seize the day, and the night too; Wise Children is a celebration of wrong-sidedness (the Thames river, the bedclothes, showbusiness - the Chance sisters are always on the bastard side) and the fine line between respectability and flash.
Carter's prose is alive and vibrant, as characters step from the page, well-defined and often with an excellent sense of comic timing - this is a prose that begs many readings.
A comic novel that is actually funny; a future masterpiece of English literature; an exquisitly written romp of shakesperian proportions: Wise Children is a millenial novel that should be read by generations of fans.
on August 21, 2002
Wise Children is a funny yet touching tale of the lives of a theatrical family. Narrated by one of the Chance twins, Dora, it charts the ups-and-downs of the twins' lives, as well as encounters with both loved and hated relatives; with almost every member of the vast family a theatrical performer.
I've read quite a few Angela Carter books, and (while Wise Children is still written in that unmistakable Carter style) it seems far more light-hearted than, for example: Love or The Magic Toyshop, and has a completely different vocabulary, as Carter adopts the voice of Dora Chance -- deliciously witty, with a strong feminist tone, relatively simple vocab, and an entirely unrelenting appetite for drama.
I was a little dubious about reading Wise Children, as the blurb implied a knowledge of Shakepeare would be beneficial when it came to understanding the book, and that the multiple sets of twins and family secrets would become highly confusing. While any subtle Shakepeare references (aside from the obvious) went right over my head, it seems that they played a minor part in the book, as it's full of raucous wit, bubbling personality, theatrical dramatics, and an inexhaustable thirst for life. As for the numerous characters and their relation to each other: Carter manages to evoke such a vivid picture and to bestow each character with such simplistic, unique features, that you become invovled in the Hazard/Chance story (therby avoiding any confusion.)
While the ending to this book seemed a little too good to be true, it fitted in with the unrealistic aspect of the book, and the dramatic nature of nearly every major character.
A great read (as with almost every Angela Carter book) I highly recommend Wise Children.
on November 27, 2001
Angela Carter's last novel,"Wise Children", may well have been the crowning glory to her illustrious career as a fiction writer. It's a coup de grace and her piece de resistance. You don't need to be an afficionado of Shakespeare to appreciate the dazzling humour of Carter's story and celebration of "wrong-side-of-the-trackness" in a theatrical family of multigenerational twins (the Hazards) or thrill to their cross-Atlantic adventures but it'll surely heighten your sense of pleasure if you're familiar with the Bard's comic characters and able to pick them out from among the novel's fabulously diverse and colourful personalities. The novel starts on a promising note and quickly settles into a swinging groove, which Carter skillfully sustains with a momentum that just builds and builds, constantly hitting new highs just when you think it can't get any better. A diabolically clever mix of pathos and humour maintains the balance between realism and a sense of the ridiculous which is unmistakeably Carter. Her legendary tongue twisting, mind bending, linguistic pyrotechnics is in full flower and display throughout. She's in top form and those familiar with the Bard's "King Lear", "Winter's Tale" and "Tempest", among others, will delight in the resonance that the novel's many references evoke. The denouement is also a masterful sleight of hand that is distinctively Carter. "Wise Children" is quite the most fascinating and entertaining novel I have read and enjoyed all year. I finished the book with such a good feeling it carried me for days. This is an "absolute must" for those who love contemporary literature of the finest quality. Don't miss it !
on August 29, 2005
Angela Carter's Wise Children is a riotous saga about the rise and fall of an entertainment dynasty. The narrator Dora Chance, less a heroine than an exuberant, sagacious chronicler of her times, makes up one half of an illegitimate pair of twins, who have gone painfully unacknowledged for decades by their aristocratic father, Melchior Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation. They also just happen to share a birthday with him, and the story begins on the twins' seventy-fifth, when an invitation arrives from the Hazard estate for Melchior's centenarian celebration. As the twins sit around their ratty East London abode, pondering what to wear, the pause gives Dora an opportunity to reflect on the past events of her tumultuous life. Fortunately, she has no intention of keeping things to herself. "Have I got a story to tell," she winks, and she delivers with gusto, launching into an incredible account of her glittering roots as part of a showgirl duo, the Lucky Chances.
The story begins long before the shady mystery of the twins' births, since Dora takes on the unofficial responsibility of preserving her family's legend for posterity. The poignancy of her narration becomes even more urgent when she hints at how close the story came to not being told - that this magnificent dynasty might have slipped through the silent cracks of history. The theatrical world of her grandparents is an intricate Shakespearean web of intrigue and international affairs, where Lears fall in love with their Cordelias and Othellos murder their Desdemonas (with reason). Eventually, the twins' story begins, with a surreptitious affair between a maid and the future thespian laureate, Melchior, who immediately abandons the scene. Luckily the girls are swept up in the arms of the maid's boarding house owner, Grandma Chance, who is soon joined by the girls' irresistible, hyperkinetic uncle Perry, determined to make up for their lack of a father. Inevitably, the girls feel the stirrings of the stage in their blood, and with hard work and sparkling charm they soon become the most celebrated dancing girls in London.
The inside cover excitedly declares that Carter delivers a Shakespearean plot, and true to form, Dora's tale is replete with bastards, mistaken identities, misshapen creatures, strange lands (Hollywood), and vibrant characters of every social stripe. At heart, Dora's tale spans the ambivalent range of tragicomedy, a bawdy but unabashedly literary tribute to the spectacular circus of human experience. Through Dora's deeply warm and empathetic voice, the people in her life are imbued with glowing life force, fully realized possibilities. There is tragedy, yes, but it is always accompanied with a healthy dose of reality, which Dora firmly believes lies at the heart of Grandma Chance's teaching - "Hope for the best, expect the worst." In the end, everything comes full circle - the gnarled knots of a century of disappointment and unlucky happenstance are tugged apart in a sensational climax, where illegitimate children are restored to their rightful mothers, identities are unraveled, and the dead are finally resurrected - doubly resurrected, in life and in story.
Originally published in 1991 and newly released in paperback, this final novel by Angela Carter (1940 - 1992) is a riotous, non-stop farce, as filled with twists, turns, travails--and twins-- as anything Shakespeare ever dreamed of. Told by Dora Chance at the age of seventy-five, the novel flashes back to the wildly iconoclastic childhood she shared with her twin sister Nora. "Chance by name. Chance by nature. We were not planned," Dora comments, explaining why they were unacknowledged and ignored by their father Melchior Hazard, the most famous Shakespearean actor of his day. ("The Hazards belonged to everyone," she declares. "They were a national treasure.")
Though their father may have been a "national treasure," he was also a self-centered and irresponsible hedonist, and Nora and Dora considered the doting Peregrine Hazard, Melchior's twin brother, their true "father." Brought up by their "Grandma" Chance, a "naturist" who claimed to be descended from the Booth family, the twins were surrounded by a bizarre assortment of "relatives," the result of their father's several marriages, which led to additional sets of Hazard twins who also adopted show business careers. As Dora describes her sexual coming-of-age, along with that of Nora, in bawdy and unapologetic language, she simultaneously describes their entry into show business as a song-and-dance team, a career that led to Hollywood.
As Dora's reminiscences continue at a manic pace--always exuberant, confident, and full of high emotion--the family's passion and love for life in all its variety become the real story here. With sparkling dialogue, the novel resembles an off-the-wall play, full of non-stop action, entrances, exits, asides, and even a Dramatis Personae, allowing the reader to keep track of all the characters and their relationships. The changing of partners and the game of "musical beds" keep the romantic aspect of the novel front and center, even as the family's dramatic contributions, some of them more significant than others, are celebrated.
Dora's story races headlong toward the climax--the 100th birthday celebration of Melchior Hazard's life, when the twins are in their mid-seventies--and the final fifty pages of the novel are as slapstick, ironic, and full of surprises as any comedy ever written. Eventually, the mysteries of their lives and the unanswered questions are resolved, not that Dora cares much. At the age of seventy-five, she believes that "A mother is always a mother, since a mother is a biological fact, whilst a father is a movable feast." Life is to be lived, without wasting a moment, and if the reader has a hard time keeping up with the high-octane action in this novel, then the reader needs to get with Dora's program. One must look, not on the bright side, but at reality. Ultimately, Carter tells us, through Dora, "Comedy is tragedy that happens to OTHER people." n Mary Whipple
The Bloody Chamber
The Magic Toyshop
on March 21, 2013
What a charming novel this is! It is full of humor that ranges from sly to broad, of fantastical and surrealistic happenings, of larger-than-life characters from the worlds of theater and film, and of multiple Shakespearean references and plot devices. The narrative voice, that of a delightfully lusty 75-year-old former song and dance girl, is perfect.
This is the story of Dora and Nora Chance (vaudeville stage name, the Lucky Chances), identical twin illegitimate daughters of Melchior Hazard, stage actor in the grand tradition of his own father, Ranulph Hazard, renowned Shakespearean actor. Melchior is also a twin, and his brother Peregrine assumes the (largely absent) father role for the twin girls. Melchior and his first wife also have twin daughters, as do Melchior and his third wife. And that's not even the last of the twins. Of course, sometimes the assumed fathers (and even mothers) may not be the strictly biological contributors.
Along with the rich plot and wonderful characters, we have implications about reality versus illusion and illegitimacy versus legitimacy (and not just as regarding paternity), along with a consideration of what really comprises a family.
The most fun part of the novel is the account of the filming in Hollywood in the lavish 1930s of a musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This includes an interlude with an alcoholic writer of Irish ancestry who surely has to be patterned on F. Scott Fitzgerald. I am sure the other Hollywood characters portrayed also have real-life counterparts, which could be discerned by those more in the know about those things.
I'm also sure a more comprehensive knowledge of Shakespeare than I possess would lead to more references than I caught, and would make the novel even more enjoyable.
I loved this book because it seems to be a celebration of life, with all its messiness and its joys. I also highly recommend Carter's Nights at the Circus.
on September 21, 2004
Great book. Angela Carter obviously loves words and is not afraid to play with them. There are a lot of characters in this book (another reviewer complained) - I drew a quick family tree which helped. For me, part of the joy of this book was all of the characters who spilled out from the pages. Messy and rambuctious, yes, but like life. I wish Edward Gorey had illustrated this book - his quirky, gothic style jives with Carter's tale perfectly. Make your self a cup o' tea and enjoy.
on April 6, 1999
Angela Carter has been one of my favorite writers since I read the Bloody Chamber in high school. This is my favorite of her novels, a gloriously funny and most heartfelt work. Wise Children is considerably warmer than her other work, and ends on a note of joy and reconciliation that brought tears to my eyes. A truly magical novel.
on October 22, 1998
In your typical multi-generational family saga, the oldsters have the good grace to eventually take their bows and exit the stage. That's too tame for Carter. Her main characters, twin sisters Nora and Dora, celebrate their 75th birthdays by attending the monster bash for Sir Melchior, the man who might be their father and who is celebrating his 100th. Of course, that makes it the 100th for Perry as well, since he's Melchior's twin, and he might turn up if he happens to be alive and in town. There are even more pairs of twins in this show-biz family and a whole gaggle of Melchior's ex-wives. These people know full well that all the world's a stage, which means that they never miss an opportunity to upstage one another. It's a raucous romp. Carter drifts easily between the present and various earlier times in the evolution of the family dynasty, introducing her trademark elements of fantasy with a light touch and never forgetting that tragedy is just the flip side of comedy. "Wise Children" is a terrific entertainment.
I'm not a huge fiction reader. However, I first read this when it was assigned to me in one of my women's lit classes in college. Needless to say it's one of the few books I found worth keeping once I had my BA in hand.
"Wise Children" features five sets of twins in the famed (but fictitious) Hazard dynasty of theatre, spanning from the heyday of the mid to late 1800s to the decline of the art with the advent of movies. Dora and Nora, the main characters (Dora being the narrator) tell a delightful story of their lives as illegitimate children "on the left hand side of the family", fathered by a famed actor in a one-night stand during WWI. The tale is expressive and detailed, with a good deal of good-natured bawdiness and who's sleeping with whom. Rather than coming off as trashy, the novel instead maintains a light heart about the whole thing from start to surprising and triumphant finish. It;s a lot of laughs, smiles, but also some tears.
Carter was a splendid writer (she died in 1992, not long after finishing this book). The story is woven in excellent style, ecoking a wide range of emotions. The characters, rather than being soap operaish (though the drama runs high, no pun intended) are well-crafted and believeable. "Wise Children" is an intimate peek into the tangled web of the Hazard family, with a knowing wink at each page.
Highly recommended for a light, entertaining, but far from saccharine read.