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A Biography

by Edmund Gordon

Pub Date: March 1st, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-19-062684-6
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

The first comprehensive biography of the acclaimed British author.

In his debut, Gordon (English/King’s Coll. London) has done yeoman’s work crafting an authorized, sensitive, and well-written biography of an ebullient writer whose “ novels, short stories and journalism…stood defiantly apart from the work of her contemporaries.” She was largely ignored until she died (1940-1992), when the mythmaking began in earnest. Gordon focuses on how “she invented herself.” His portrait of the prolific writer who described herself as a “born fabulist” travels from her “shy, introverted childhood, through a nervy, aggressively unconventional youth, to a happy, self-confident middle age.” Born into a “matriarchal clan,” her mother wanted to control her, but her grandmother raised her “as a tough, arrogant and pragmatic Yorkshire child.” After school, Carter became a journalist and married a folk musician. College came later. Exposure to Baudelaire and Rimbaud convinced her she wanted to be a writer. After a few short stories, she wrote her first novel, Shadow Dance, in 1966. This was followed by a “malevolent fairy tale,” The Magic Toyshop. These were surreal gothic/horror tales written in a baroque and arcane “style of luxuriant beauty.” Reading Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard added science fiction to her palette, resulting in Heroes and Villains, a “post-apocalyptic fairy tale.” Gordon notes that The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman, jam-packed with her social and feminist principles, showed how she could transform her “day-to-day experience into strange, hallucinatory art,” and he calls the controversial The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography “a work of brilliantly sustained cultural criticism.” Always the iconoclast, Carter had her supporters, like Salman Rushdie, Robert Coover, and director Neil Jordan. 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.