Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe


(This review appeared in the ReadReverb newsletter, and on the ReadReverb website)

What does a cursed, beautiful marionette have in common with an unexplored jungle? What's the horrible secret the executioner keeps strictly in the family, and how might a Dostoyevskian murder be reinterpreted in a crumbling society, where a small tribe of squatters are bound by love and sex instead of the social contract? Ritual and impulse are stirred together in Fireworks, a collection of short stories from Angela Carter that presage The Bloody Chamber, which in turn eventually brought her widespread critical acclaim.

Carter always denied that she was putting the edge back into fairytales per se: rather, her intent was to strip it down to its violent, often sexual roots, to the point where it no longer resembled a story at all. The bare skeleton would then be fleshed out until a new story presented itself. Yet the ones in Fireworks still resemble their ancestors, and the strongest---Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest, and The Loves of Lady Purple---are also probably the closest to the "originals," whilst Flesh and the Mirror and A Souvenir of Japan meander in comparison, at the same time showing little glimpses of the underlying fairytale.

This is not intended to disparage Carter's authorship; arguably her own voice is the quintessence which brings the stories to life. But there's a subtler cautionary tale here for every prospective homo fabulans, hoping to fashion something new in the telling of a story: the pelts of the monsters, that once frightened our ancestors in their caves, can never truly be swept from the bones; and there are deep, dark reasons why things that we might nowadays call terrific or awful can nonetheless sometimes still have teeth.