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Wise Children

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Dora and Nora Chance are a famous song-and-dance team of the British music halls. Billed as The Lucky Chances, the sisters are the illegitimate and unacknowledged daughters of Sir Melchior Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. At once ribald and sentimental, glittery and tender, this rambunctious family saga is Angela Carter at her bewitching best.


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Dora and Nora Chance are a famous song-and-dance team of the British music halls. Billed as The Lucky Chances, the sisters are the illegitimate and unacknowledged daughters of Sir Melchior Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. At once ribald and sentimental, glittery and tender, this rambunctious family saga is Angela Carter at her bewitching best.

30 review for Wise Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    Ms. Flirtworthy, I Presume At just under 240 pages, this isn't a long or difficult book, but it is hugely enjoyable and rewarding at multiple levels. At one level, you can read it as a first person narration of a 75 year old woman (Dora Chance) that is hilarious, vulgar, witty and dynamic. It's like sitting Mae West in front of a microphone and plying her with alcohol. The stories, street wisdom, wise-cracking, jokes and double entendres just pour out of her endlessly. I've met this kind of woman be Ms. Flirtworthy, I Presume At just under 240 pages, this isn't a long or difficult book, but it is hugely enjoyable and rewarding at multiple levels. At one level, you can read it as a first person narration of a 75 year old woman (Dora Chance) that is hilarious, vulgar, witty and dynamic. It's like sitting Mae West in front of a microphone and plying her with alcohol. The stories, street wisdom, wise-cracking, jokes and double entendres just pour out of her endlessly. I've met this kind of woman before, at cocktail parties, a long time ago. If you enjoy flirtation, nobody in the room could possibly be more flirtworthy. (I don't mean flirtation in any way other than the sheer pleasure of good company and good conversation.) At first, you approach them tentatively and gently, as if they might be quaint, thinking they'll only last one martini, and they'll want or need to catch a cab home. Then you realise that, as the twinkle surfaces and remains in their eye, they can handle their liquor better than you. They're the life of the party, not you. They're the speaker, you're just the listener. They're the author, you're just the reader. They've had more practice, and besides, they have more and better stories to tell than you. Slowly, drink by drink, they better you. Without doubt, they've met better men than you, too. They might forget you, but you will never forget them. I used to live next to two twins like this. We used to attend monthly Art Gallery functions, when the Gallery still paid for drinks and hors d'oeuvres. We always caught a cab home together, if I could handle the pace. Brush Up on Your Shakespeare At another level, this novel is an extremely sophisticated project. Its five chapters function like a five act play. It appropriates themes and tropes from just about every Shakespearean play in existence (except perhaps two?). It really is an exercise that proves, if you brush up on your Shakespeare, you can achieve something breathtaking and remarkable. Well, at least Angela Carter could. Shakespeare is the foundation upon which the novel is built. Well, his theatre is. As we fast-forward into the present, Dora reveals to us her life in theatre, music hall, song and dance, and ultimately film of the Hollywood variety. Dora proves that all the world's a stage. I don't really know to whom the stage belonged in Shakespeare's age. It wasn't just Shakespeare and Co. However, increasingly, entertainment has been taken over by the supposed deal makers. The playwrights have been pushed into the background, as have the actors and actresses. In a way, Dora/Angela asserts the value of the person, the storyteller, the actor, the one who gets up on stage, the one who acts the part, the one who acts a goat, the one who entertains. Doesn't Feel like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag As narrated by a 75 year old woman, you have to wonder whether this is all nostalgia, a requiem for a time that has passed. Yet Carter's prose beats with the biggest heart you can conceive. This is no "feels like I'm fixin' to die rag". This is a tale told by someone who is determined to eke the most out of their life until the very last heartbeat. What a Joy It Is! I could tell you about the difference between a Hazard and a Chance. I could tell you that Dora has an identical twin, Nora, and I could tell you about all of the other twins and all of the scope for mistaken identity that this creates, not to mention the uncertainty about paternity (and maternity, believe it or not). But what I really want to tell you about is the joy that runs through this novel, these five chapters, like a river. "So Long as Men Can Breathe, or Eyes Can See, So Long Lives This, and This Gives Life to Thee" After all is said and done, Dora proclaims: "What a joy it is to dance and sing!" She's right, of course. If you make the effort to dance and sing. But isn't that what life is about? When you read that last sentence, you look back on the novel in its entirety and you marvel at the effort that went into it. The effort that was required to be precisely this hilarious, this vulgar, this witty, this dynamic, this wise. It's OK for a writer to be praised for the quality of their sentences. But here is someone who writes great sentences, great paragraphs, great chapters, great novels. Angela Carter never relaxes the pressure on herself in this novel. Only the best will do. Then you realise that for almost the whole time she was writing this novel, she knew that she had lung cancer and that it would take her life within 12 months. There isn't one iota of self-pity in this novel. It asserts that tragedy is something that happens to other people (even if comedy might also be a tragedy that happens to someone else). But most importantly, it asserts that tragedy isn't so much a life that ends (for this happens to us all), but a life that is wasted. Angela Carter wrote to the very end, partly so that her two sons might have a better life, but so that we might too. Ironically, or perhaps not, both Shakespeare and Carter died around the time of their 52nd birthdays.

  2. 4 out of 5

    carol.

    Well, sheeet (that's the way the British say the Americans say it). Back to the library. This has to be one of the most slowest moving vaguely interesting books I've ever read. Or not read. I'm on page 80 after about two weeks of intermittent baths. This is the written version of an oral history told by a seventy-five year-old bastard ex-chorus girl (usually on the left line) about her family and her famous actor father who wouldn't acknowledge her or her twin sister. As far as I can tell, there Well, sheeet (that's the way the British say the Americans say it). Back to the library. This has to be one of the most slowest moving vaguely interesting books I've ever read. Or not read. I'm on page 80 after about two weeks of intermittent baths. This is the written version of an oral history told by a seventy-five year-old bastard ex-chorus girl (usually on the left line) about her family and her famous actor father who wouldn't acknowledge her or her twin sister. As far as I can tell, there is no actual plot. We're just sitting in her house with her twin sister and their not-quite Step-mother, Wheelchair (a nick-name, clearly) and reminiscing on her birthday, the eve of an invitation to a party at her father's house. Oh, and at some point their half-brother comes in to say his lover, their adopted-ish daughter, has gone missing, which gives us a whole new branch of the family to tangent on. Don't get me wrong; the prose is interesting but dense; it's quite florid, with a few Britishisms and anachronisms to tangle me up. But it's also been charmingly pointless. Not that I object. If I met this woman at work, I'd totally stop into her room and listen to her... if I had time. But otherwise, I'd be edging one foot towards the door. There are loads of Shakespeare references--and I suspect the whole thing is supposed to be just a bit of a Shakespeare farce--especially as their dad and grandparents are famous actors in their time. And, of course, the sisters are twins, which Shakespeare never could resist, either. The language is ribald, with loads about drunken-but-loving Grandma and knickers and the old knobby bits. Kind of amusing--I guess--but mostly just exhausting. Here's the beginning of Chapter Two (there are five chapters in the book): "One, two, three, hop! See me dance the polka. Once upon a time, there was an old woman in splitting black satin pounding away at an upright piano in a room over a haberdasher's shop in Clapham High Street and her daughter in a pink tutu and wrinkled tights slapped at your ankles with a cane if you didn't pick up your feet high enough. Once a week, every Saturday morning, Grandma Chance would wash us, brush us and do up our hair in sausage curls. We had long, brown stockings strung up to our liberty bodices by suspenders. Grandma Chance would take firm hold of one hand of each of us, then--ho! for the dancing class; off we'd trot to catch the tram. We always took the tram from Brixton to Clapham High Street. The stately progress of the tram, occupying by right of bulk and majesty the centre of the road, not veering to the left n or right upon its way but sometimes swaying every now and then with a sickening lurch, like Grandma, coming home from the pub. One, two, three, hop."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    This is a gloriously ribald carnivalesque adventure, with deeper themes. It is the life story of identical twin musical hall performers, Dora and (Leo)Nora and their complex family, as remembered by Dora on their 75th birthday. Dora is a wonderful raconteur, though hardly a reliable narrator. She's more of a chatty old biddy, rambling away, enthusiastically, and suddenly remembering little asides. She would be great fun to meet, and I really felt I did. There are many twins in the story: contrast This is a gloriously ribald carnivalesque adventure, with deeper themes. It is the life story of identical twin musical hall performers, Dora and (Leo)Nora and their complex family, as remembered by Dora on their 75th birthday. Dora is a wonderful raconteur, though hardly a reliable narrator. She's more of a chatty old biddy, rambling away, enthusiastically, and suddenly remembering little asides. She would be great fun to meet, and I really felt I did. There are many twins in the story: contrasts, duality, uniqueness, and mistaken identity are the most obvious themes, all in a theatrical setting, with many Shakespearean references. THEMES As well as duality/twins (and related themes) and the theatre, uncertain parentage, absent fathers, decline and fall, comedy and tragedy, all feature strongly, and in fact most of them come back to duality and contrast. The performers range from the most revered Shakespearean thespians down to presenters on the trashiest sort of TV game show. Twinship sometimes reduces a pair to a single entity, but also enhances to more than the sum of its parts: "Neither of us is anything special on our own... but put us together, people blinked... we turned heads." The trouble is, "This night of all nights I wanted to look like myself, whoever that was." There are even similarities among those who are not twins, the same circumstances and actions recurring: romances arising from productions of King Lear, consensual incest (actual, presumed (but not certain, where paternity is not definite), and fictional (Lear and Cordelia, a pantomime goose and its gosling!)), and "to die for love runs in the family" - as does being long-lived (another contrast/contradiction). Legitimacy and illegitimacy is another aspect, both in the literal sense of people's parentage, but also in terms of "proper" theatre versus lower forms of entertainment. Randolph, the patriarch, toured the world, evangelising Shakespeare, to the point where "the touring was turning into a kind of madness". Performance is the background of everything, even real life: Grandma Chance's boarding house - on Bard Road "never looked plausible. It looked like a stage set of a boarding house, as if Grandma had done it up to suite a role she'd chosen on purpose", which was almost true. She even created her family out of scraps. Fate is a strong thread, too, even in the main surnames, Hazard and Chance. "Ambition, the curse and glory of the Hazards, who'll risk everything they've got and a little bit more on a throw of the dice." If you like spotting such things, also look out for mirrors, the grandfather's Grandfather clock (and indirect references, e.g. "we stopped, short..." re the menopause!), Shakespearean-style potions and poisons, and Melchior's obsessive attachment to a cardboard crown. FAMILY TREE This is rather complicated, as there are lots of twins, as well as partner-swapping, resulting in children being raised by their uncles. Other children, including Dora and Nora, are raised by people who are not their parents or uncles. There is a Dramatis Personae listed at the back, but this family tree is more useful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wis... The title becomes clear towards, the end, "I may never have known my father in the sense of an intimate acquaintance, but I know who he was. I was a wise child." INCEST This should be a troubling issue, but it's all glossed over in such a jolly way (no gory details), it's hard to be as outraged as one should be. Just the thought of it makes one character say, "Dread and delight coursed through my veins". TRUTH Parts of it are a little far-fetched, but whether that's Angela Carter's fantasy, or embroidered by Dora, we don't always know, though at times, doubts are explicit: "Over the years, Perry offered us a Chinese banquet of options as to what happened to him. He gave us all his histories, we could choose which ones we wanted - but they kept on changing." Another time, she admits, "I always misremember. It never seems the same twice, each time that I remember it, it distorts." Similarly, "Grandma invented this family. She put it together out of whatever came to hand... she created it out of sheer force of personality." There is a scene where a comedian tells an old joke about multiple illegitimacy (http://goodriddlesnow.com/jokes/view/...), but it becomes a rather meta joke within the novel, as the fiction has so many parallels in the story. The conclusion is that children invent their own histories, and Nora wonders if much of their own memory (especially of Peregrine) is "just a collection of our hopes and dreams... Something to set our lives by, like the old [grandfather] clock in the hall." ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE For their seventh birthday, Dora and Nora are given a beautiful toy theatre, and Dora comments (perhaps only with hindsight) that it's "just like life". They, like another pair of twins in the story, were born on Shakespeare's birthday. "The priest and the game-show presenter. Not so different... Both of them in show business. Both, in their different ways, carrying on the great tradition of the Hazard family - the willing suspension of disbelief. Both of them promise you a free gift if you play the game." "I... have always loved it best of all, the moment when the lights go down, the curtain glows, you know that something wonderful is going to happen. It doesn't matter if what happens next spoils everything: the anticipation itself is always pure." When one pair of twins meet their real father, he denies parentage by quoting the Bard - ouch! Dora describes the experience of watching film of her and Nora in their youth as "batty old tarts with their eyes glued on their own ghosts... When I was young, I'd wanted to be ephemeral... to live on just the glorious moment... But if you put your past on celluloid, it keeps." FAVOURITE QUOTES * "The habit of applying warpaint outlasts the battle." * "He loved his boys [who may not have been his]. He cast them as the princes in the tower as soon as they could toddle." * "There he was on the bed, brushing up his Shakespeare." (Nudge, nudge.) * Of a cheating wife, whose husband murdered her, her lover and then himself, "She always had a gift for exits". * "She didn't so much talk as elocute." * "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive... I always preferred foreplay, too, well, not always." * "Tragedy, eternally more class than comedy." * "Irish had an old soul... He was a man with a great future behind him already." * When a wife is asked if she misses her errant husband, "she had the grace to twinkle right up at the very thought of him, but she twinkled dismissively." * "I've never known such profound silences... Silences in which the unspoken hung like fog that got into your lungs and choked you." * "We painted the faces we always used to have onto the faces we have now." * "The third Lady Hazard, wearing a Vivienne Westwood somewhat too witty for her years." * "She looked a million dollars... even if in well-used notes... a stunning advertisement for hormone replacement therapy... not a line on that skin but, then, sharkskin doesn't wrinkle" and her boyfriend was so unprepossessing "I hoped for her sake he'd got hidden talents." * "Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people." Recommended by Danielle (CUSFS)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Fun. Great fun. I bought this book in a Fifteenth-century bookshop. That is what it had painted on the fascia. It did not specialise in books from the fifteenth-century, indeed it did not seem to have any fifteenth- century books, nor any about the fifteenth century. It certain had not been a bookshop since the fifteenth century either, though by the musty smell of old books it was doing it’s very best to give the impression of a bookshop that pre-dated printing. Having bought it I did not read it Fun. Great fun. I bought this book in a Fifteenth-century bookshop. That is what it had painted on the fascia. It did not specialise in books from the fifteenth-century, indeed it did not seem to have any fifteenth- century books, nor any about the fifteenth century. It certain had not been a bookshop since the fifteenth century either, though by the musty smell of old books it was doing it’s very best to give the impression of a bookshop that pre-dated printing. Having bought it I did not read it instantly but engaged in a bit of pre-reading as I do sometimes, reading odd pages here and there to see if I liked it, and I didn’t, it seemed like it was going to be work. Then I was compelled to start it and read from the beginning through to the end – and what do you know it was a fantastic fun book to read, but no pick and mix. It is a carnival of tropes, themes, and scenes from Shakespeare, so as you read through you can award yourself a million points for each reference to a play that you spot in a game of Shakespeare bingo– two brothers, one a stage magician, the other a king of the stage – ha! The Tempest, a death by drowning – Hamlet, a family crest of a Pelican stabbing itself in the breast with its own beak – King Lear, wife murdered by husband - Othello, there we are, 4,000,000 points already, I’m just not sure how to score the direct references in the story, such as a performance of Macbeth, or a character named Imogen, or one dressed as a shepherdess can hardly be worth the full million points... This Shakespearian carnival is the continuous narrative reminiscences (divided, of course, into five acts) of half of a pair of twins (Leo)Nora and Dora Chance the bastard daughters (now gods, stand up for bastards Lear, Act1, scene2) of Sir Melchior Hazard the above mentioned King of the stage. Hazard and chance, if not exact synonyms, they are, I wager, close enough, and the two branches of the family curl above each other incestuously (occasionally) or in rivalry, there are uncertain paternities, contrasting pairs of twins, confused identities, role swapping, division and unity. The Chances are in Sarf London, music hall performers, the Hazards are north of the River, mostly in serious acting or television, making money rather than just getting by. The Chances tend more to the accidental family – absorbing and co-opting people into their kinship circles, while the Hazards cling to (an in fact uncertain) patrilineal line of descent (view spoiler)[ the stage joke with the punchline ”E’s not your father” is a spoiler (hide spoiler)] . The Five Acts mostly are structured about a single iconic event, a 100th birthday party, a horrible dinner for a 21st birthday, a comical multiple wedding in Hollywood, a dinner party in a stately home. Each of these plays with Shakespsearian tropes of mistaken identities, reconciliation (and reconciliation denied), chance ( or enforced) encounters, partner swapping, incest (supposed, actual, or potential), happily ever afters avoided. The narrator tells us that comedy is tragedy that happens to other people, the Chances and the Hazards represent the two faces of theatre, one upset, one laughing – Democritus and Heraclitus perhaps an image forced on us by the author through the gift of a toy theatre to the Chance twins. This is a subversive narrative, a view of a tragic family history (madness, murder, uncertain paternity, divorce, divorce, divorce, sexual infidelity, fraternal rivalries, unhappy families) viewed comically by the bastard child, mostly excluded and unacknowledged. She and her own sister have their own struggles which play in counterpoint to those of their legitimate kin north of the river. This was Carter’s last novel, I am divided over whether she had mellowed in the face of her end or if there is something radical and explosive staring me in the face that I am not seeing, above and beyond the implication of the unity of the theatre and the unity by implication of life. So I don’t know if this is a safe introduction to Angela Carter or just so stealthily subversive that I haven’t realised it yet, but I have my suspicions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    Extract from the introductory note: ... cheerfully bawdy, it's Carter's most glorious, most comic, most fulfilled, certainly her most generously and happily orgiastic, fictional performance. By chance it is also her last novel. A fitting swan song for the master enchanter, conjuring wonders out of her magic pen for the last time, guiding me again by the light of a Paper Moon into world of entertainment. After joining the circus in the company of a winged trapeze artist in Nights at the Circus, i Extract from the introductory note: ... cheerfully bawdy, it's Carter's most glorious, most comic, most fulfilled, certainly her most generously and happily orgiastic, fictional performance. By chance it is also her last novel. A fitting swan song for the master enchanter, conjuring wonders out of her magic pen for the last time, guiding me again by the light of a Paper Moon into world of entertainment. After joining the circus in the company of a winged trapeze artist in Nights at the Circus, it's the turn now of Dora and Nora Chance to be the hosts of a wild ride through almost a century of popular entertainment. They are twin illegitimate daughters of the greatest Shakespearen family in the English Theatre, the Hazards. Being from the wrong side of the tracks (literally from the South Bank of the Thames), their career develops in the 'bastard' scion of the art : the Vaudeville. Foul mouthed, gin infused and outrageously libertine, Dora Chance on her 75 year birthday recounts the tumultous history of the family, starting with their grandparents and going through several pair of twins in each Hazard generation. Prepare to be shocked out of your socks and to laugh until you cry your eyes out. Well, you might have known what you were about to let yourself in for when you let Dora Chance in her ratty old fur and poster paint, her orange (Persian Melon) toenails sticking out of her snakeskin peep-toes, reeking of liquor, accost you in the Coach and Horses and let her tell you a tale. The whole journey takes place under the auspices of The Bard : the grandparents toured the world as a Shakespearean company, Melchior and Peregrine Hazard, as well as the Chance twins are born on the same day as Shakespeare. Melchior would achieve his world wide fame playing dramatic roles from the Bard's repertoire, and later in the novel the whole family would move to Hollywood to film A Midsummer Night Dream . This reference is not a coincidence, as the whole book is a manifesto against artificial divisions of entertainment between high- and low-brow, be it theathe, literature, music or cinema. Shakespeare is the perfect master of both the comedy and the tragedy that is life, indivisibly and irrepressibly bursting out of the restraints of conventions and categorizations. Dora and Nora Chance are raised in poverty by their grandmother, unacknowledged by their sire Melchior, but supported from a distance by their wandering uncle, his twin Perry. Their fate is sealed on their seventh birthday, as they are treated to a night out at the theatre. They see a performance of Lady Be Good and afterwards the Grandmother exclaims: "You've got stars in your eyes, girls" All they want to do from now on is to get up and dance. They will take lessons, and start earning money as chorus girls in their early teens, but that first magic moment will be cherished forever in their pit-pating hearts: The lights went down, the bottom of the curtain glowed. I loved it and have always loved it best of all, the moment when the light go down, the curtain glows, you know that something wonderful is going to happen. It doesn't matter if what happens next spoils everything; the anticipation itself is always pure. To travel hopefully is better than to arrive. Their career is anything but a bed of roses, with two world wars to get through and the degradation of the vaudeville scene into nude peeping shows in later years. But throughout their tribulations they stood shoulder to shoulder and kicked their heels high and the air, laughed at the troubles and sang out their songs as loud as they could: She said "Yes!" to life and I said, "Maybe!" but whe're both in the same boat, now. Two batty old hags, buy us a drink and we'll sing you a song. Even manage a knees-up, on occasion, such as New Year's Eve or a publican's grandbaby. What a joy it is to dance and sing! One thing you can be sure of: nobody will say the Chance twins will go gently into that good night. And neither will Angela Carter, who remains in my heart a rebel and a fighter, cheerfully demolishing stuffy historical figures and dusty moralities in thinly veiled references to Lewis Carroll (Not many people can boast a photo of their grandmother posing for kiddiporn), Lawrence Olivier, Charlie Chaplin, a Certain Distinguished Person from the Royal Family, F Scott Fitzgerald (I read on wikipedia that he is the inspiration for Irish), Fred Astaire, Hollywood moguls and divas, TV presenters and venerable lords of the theatre. TV game shows are Simplicity itself. It's all about greed. The camera lingers on the faces in the audience, their eyes are popping out, they're drooling and slobbering. Money! Money for nothing! A win on Tristram Hazard's 'Lashings of Lolly', almost as good as a Civil List pension. Coming back to the twins in the family and the best Shakespearean tradition of mistaken identities, switching places and shady parenting, every Hazard / Chance generation recreates the dialectics of entertainment: tragedy and comedy, Carnegie Hall and Las Vegas, meditation and escapism, marriage and adultery, poetry and doggerel, chalk and cheese. Each twin is not a carbon copy of the other: - Melchior is King Lear and Hamlet, Perregrine is Falstaff traipsing around the world and hunting for butterflies in the Amazonian jungle; - Nora falls in love at the drop of a pin, Dora guards her heart fiercely; - Saskia is a famous TV chef, her sister Imogen is famous for her role as a goldfish in a children's programme; - Tristram is a game show presenter, his brother Gareth a Jesuit priest ( Not so different, really, I suppose. Both of them in show business. quips Dora) And none of them is actually certain who his/her parents are. That's where the title of the novel comes from (It's a wise child that knows its own father, hissed Peregrine, like the gypsy's warning. But wiser yet the father who knows his own child.), and the whole argument Carter makes in here that we should love life fully, unrestrained by moral prejudices, envy, greed, timidity. In the end: all is laughter, forgiveness, generosity, reconciliation just as the Bard taught us four centuries ago. ---- I've got a couple more quotes that I couldn't fit in without repeating myself , but I'll add them here because I would hate to misplace them later: Tragedy, eternally more class than comedy. How could mere song-and-dance girls aspire so high? We were destined from birth to be the lovely ephemera of the theatre, we'd rise and shine like birthday candles, then blow out. --- when Dora advises the American Star Daisy to lie to her producer husband: Such moral horror as suffused her features! You never saw anything like it. We were quite surprised and felt shoddy, by comparison, as if we lived in an ethical twilight, a cockroach world of compromise, lies, emotional sleight of hand. And so we did, I suppose. We called it "Life". But Daisy wanted something better. So did Irish, come to think of it. It's the American tragedy in a nutshell. They look around the world and think: "There must be something better!" But there isn't. Sorry, chum. This is it. What you see is what you get. Only the here and now. --- Irish is Dora's elderly playwright boyfriend in Hollywood: Poor old Irish. I gave him all a girl can give - a little pleasure, a little pain, a carillon of laughter, a kerchief full of tears. And, as for him, well, he gave me the ability to compose such a sentence as that last one. Don't knock it. That's lyricism. --- from Grandma, a lesson to last a lifetime: Come off it girls! Pluck the day! You ain't dead, yet! You've got a party to go to! Expect the worst, hope for the best! --- additional material, companion pieces to Wise Children: - David Niven - The Moon's a Balloon - The Prince and The Showgirl a classic comedy with Lawrence Olivier and Marylin Monroe soundtrack listing (actually in the book as the Chance twins theme songs): - It's Only a Paper Moon - I Can't Give You Anything But Love - Please direct your feet To the sunny sunny sunny side of the street - Is You Is or Is You Ain't - I'll See You Again - My Heart Belongs to Daddy - The Way You Look Tonight

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    My experience reading Angela Carter has been mixed, but to be honest, it's not her, it's me. I read two of her novels deep in the middle of a hyper-anxious era that rattled me so badly that I barely remember anything I read that whole year (I promise you, "Magic Toyshop", I will come back!) and I'm afraid it has tainted my enthusiam for her other books. I have to thank Cecily for writing an enthusiatic review of "Wise Children" that got me dusting off the used copy that had been patiently waitin My experience reading Angela Carter has been mixed, but to be honest, it's not her, it's me. I read two of her novels deep in the middle of a hyper-anxious era that rattled me so badly that I barely remember anything I read that whole year (I promise you, "Magic Toyshop", I will come back!) and I'm afraid it has tainted my enthusiam for her other books. I have to thank Cecily for writing an enthusiatic review of "Wise Children" that got me dusting off the used copy that had been patiently waiting on my shelf… I now feel silly for neglecting "Wise Children" all this time: Shakespeare, musical theater acts and convoluted family history are like literary catnip to me. I have a viceral and romantic attraction to any story that could have a grinder organ soundtrack, the more sequins and greasepaint, the better! Dora Chance has that dirty old lady voice that I aspire to have when my seventy-fifth birthday rolls around (although anyone who hangs out with me over a few glasses of pinot noir might tell you I already sound exactly like that…). She is a rambling, passionate, self-depricating story-teller who spins a colorful, topsy-turvy yarn. You might be tempted to call her an unreliable narrator but history has a way of being so much stranger than fiction… Its useless to try and summarize the Chance sisters' story but I will tell you about the aspects of it that really stayed with me. Duality is explored in so many ways in this novel. Obviously, there is a rather improbable amount of twins running around, all of which have personalities that oppose each other. The introvert and the extrovert, the man of the cloth and the game show host, the refined Shakespearean actor and the stage magician. But there are also two sides to the river Thames - in this story's context, it is about being born on the "bad" (read: poor) side of the river. The legitimacy of acts such as classical theater vs. the Vaudeville and other such low-brow forms of entertainement. But do those extremes not complement each other? Isn't that the constant balancing act of life? Another important theme is that of nostalgia. Dora is telling us this story on her seventy-fifth birthday, which happens to be her father's hundreth's birthday. She looks back at a world that has all but completely vanished. There is something sad about Dora and Nora being aged biddies, living with their sort-of-stepmother and having very little to do with themselves. It is tempting to live in one's memory of good times gone but it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings, as they say - and the ending will give them a lovely second wind. The theme of absent fathers struck a chord with me: my father left my mom when I was too young to appreciate that it was the right choice for everyone, but even before they separated, he wasn't around much. He's tried to make amends since, but you don't teach an old dog new tricks, and in many ways, Melchior reminded me of him. Dad never went as far as to pretend my siblings and I weren't his, but the serial deranged marriages are a speciality of his… The only thing I am really unhappy about with this book, is that it isn't longer. I would have wanted to listen to Dora's stories for another hundred pages. But despite this flaw, this lovely bittersweet book made me giggle and sigh, and what else can you ask from a dirty old lady?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    Perhaps there’s something ‘wrong’ with me, but if a book is billed as “comic” or especially “richly comic” as this one is on the back of the edition I own, odds are I’m not going to enjoy it as much as a novel that's dark, morbid, or even darkly or morbidly comic. Before starting this, I’d started the second book—The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman— in the aforementioned volume and couldn’t get into that one at all; after only a few pages, I read Jan-Maat’s review and decided it likel Perhaps there’s something ‘wrong’ with me, but if a book is billed as “comic” or especially “richly comic” as this one is on the back of the edition I own, odds are I’m not going to enjoy it as much as a novel that's dark, morbid, or even darkly or morbidly comic. Before starting this, I’d started the second book—The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman— in the aforementioned volume and couldn’t get into that one at all; after only a few pages, I read Jan-Maat’s review and decided it likely isn’t for me at all. So I turned to this one and wasn’t sure of it in the beginning either, but I kept on and got into it for quite a while. But then—and this is generally my issue with comedy of any kind—it went on too long for my tastes. Not just the book itself but the scenes themselves, starting with when the rather large cast of characters is sent to Hollywood; ditto for the 21st birthday party of one of several pairs of twins and the last scene, another birthday party. I read a lot of works by English authors, so I consider myself fairly conversant with British slang, references and brand names, but there was a tremendous amount here I hadn’t heard of before, perhaps that had something to do with the time period. Sometimes not knowing didn’t matter; sometimes it did, and thank goodness for Google. After I was finished, I was reminded that I basically felt the same way about Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt. I’ve been accused by certain family members (and I agree with them) of taking some things too seriously and of not enjoying ‘silly’, so take my rating with that in mind. And despite my negativity, I agree with Cecily’s warm review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Oh, why did it take me so long to read this? Books like this one, sitting on my shelves gathering dust because I once thought they sounded interesting enough to buy, but then never got around to reading them, are exactly why I am undertaking this project and reading the books that I have instead of buying anything new. I loved this book a lot, obviously. It’s the kind of book I want to read again for fun, but it also makes me want to go back to school, to read or reread all of Shakespeare (I am l Oh, why did it take me so long to read this? Books like this one, sitting on my shelves gathering dust because I once thought they sounded interesting enough to buy, but then never got around to reading them, are exactly why I am undertaking this project and reading the books that I have instead of buying anything new. I loved this book a lot, obviously. It’s the kind of book I want to read again for fun, but it also makes me want to go back to school, to read or reread all of Shakespeare (I am limiting myself to The Winter’s Tale for now), to go back and read some Bakhtin. This is a novel about the theater, about the romance of family (blood ties and created families alike), about fathers and daughters, about the “hypothesis” of fatherhood and the effects of its denial, about Shakespeare, about bastard children and lost heirs and endless sets of twins (I think there are five sets of twins, all told). Dora Chance, an identical twin and a bastard child and an elderly woman, looks back on her life as a song-and-dance girl on the wrong side of a great theater family that has fallen on hard times, artistically speaking: they now do margarine commercials, game shows, and cooking shows. Shakespearean plots and illusions repeat all through the novel and are sometimes consciously evoked by Dora, and sometimes appear under the surface. The story is nominally about fathers and daughters and the claiming of paternity, right down to the title: the proverb reads, “It is a wise child that knows its own father,” but Shakespeare turned it around to, “It is a wise father that knows his own child,” in The Merchant of Venice, and in this novel the knowing and not knowing definitely goes hand in hand with wisdom, on both sides of the parental equation. And Carter opens the novel with a quotation: “How many times Shakespeare draws fathers and daughters, never mothers and daughters.” But I think the novel is about mothers. The absent mother, dead in childbirth or murdered by the father, the adopted caretakers, the grandmothers, the stepmothers, the nanny. Fathers are both larger than life and entirely elusive here, but mothers are everywhere. They crawl out of the woodwork to fill in the gaps Shakespeare left, while the “wise children” are so focused on fathers that they take for granted the mothers all around them. A quote from near the end: "‘Nora … don’t you think our father looked two-dimensional, tonight?’ "She gave me a look that said, tell me more. "‘Too kind, too handsome, too repentant. After all those years without a word. Remember that terrible bank holiday when he pretended to our faces that he thought we were Perry’s? And tonight, he had an imitation look, even when he was crying, especially when he was crying, like one of those great, big, papier-maché heads they have in the Notting Hill parade, larger than life, but not lifelike.’ "Nora sunk in thought for a hundred yards. "‘D’you know, I sometimes wonder if we haven’t been making him up all along,’ she said. ‘If he isn’t just a collection of our hopes and dreams and wishful thinking in the afternoons. Something to set our lives by, like the old clock in the hall, which is real enough, in itself, but which we’ve got to wind up to make it go.’" And on top of all of that, Wise Children is raunchy and very, very funny. I loved it without a single reservation.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    Read to fill the “Magical Realism” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card. The large cast of off-beat characters in this book reminded me strongly of Canadian author, Robertson Davies. And all of the links back to Melchior Hazard, Shakespearean actor, made me think of Station Eleven! But Carter definitely makes this tale all her own, despite the echoes with other authors. Like the Shakespeare that permeates the novel, there are lots of twins, sudden changes in fortune, costumes, and a lot of uncer Read to fill the “Magical Realism” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card. The large cast of off-beat characters in this book reminded me strongly of Canadian author, Robertson Davies. And all of the links back to Melchior Hazard, Shakespearean actor, made me think of Station Eleven! But Carter definitely makes this tale all her own, despite the echoes with other authors. Like the Shakespeare that permeates the novel, there are lots of twins, sudden changes in fortune, costumes, and a lot of uncertain parentage. As the old saw goes, it’s a wise child that knows its own father. Dora Chance, Melchior’s illegitimate daughter and twin to Nora Chance, tells the tale and it unrolls like an article in a gossip rag. Whether you can trust all she says or not is a Chance that you’ll have to take! The Lucky Chances, as the sisters are known, can only be considered lucky in comparison to others in the tale. For instance, they were raised by a woman who seemed to actually care about them, rather than by their biological parents and in this, they seem to come out ahead. Dora and Nora sound like they would be a lot of fun to have a gin and tonic with, but I wouldn’t want to stay in their house!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    I’m not a fan of what I think of as theatrical novels. An admittedly huge generalization this, but overly vivid characters, outrageous plots, and paeans to acting and theaters typically don’t absorb me. I think of Angela Carter’s Wise Children as a theatrical novel, as I do Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. Both Wise Children and the Deptford Trilogy absorbed me despite not being to my taste: high praise for fiction. Angela Carter fills Wise Children with wonderful characters: the irrepressibl I’m not a fan of what I think of as theatrical novels. An admittedly huge generalization this, but overly vivid characters, outrageous plots, and paeans to acting and theaters typically don’t absorb me. I think of Angela Carter’s Wise Children as a theatrical novel, as I do Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. Both Wise Children and the Deptford Trilogy absorbed me despite not being to my taste: high praise for fiction. Angela Carter fills Wise Children with wonderful characters: the irrepressible Nora and Dora “Lucky” Chance twins, Wheelchair, Peregrine and Melchior, Melchior’s three wives, and Melchior’s various offspring and especially the despised Saskia, ”television’s top cook”. Wise Children’s portrait of Nora and Dora as two aging theatrical troupers, most at home in dance halls, and their lifelong search for paternal love and even acknowledgement, was actually quite touching. Carter’s portrayal of Nora Dora’s realizations of their own ridiculous aging was masterful. I especially enjoyed Carter’s frequent call-outs to a bygone London that I never knew but could readily imagine: J. Lyons tea shops, Mrs. Fuller’s walnut cake, even the nonexistent Bard Road in Brixton. But unfamiliar with Shakespeare and minimally familiar with Hollywood’s early glory days, I fear that much of Wise Children’s riches eluded me. Ali Smith’s Introduction, which I read after finishing Wise Children, is excellent and helpful. 4.5 stars, all the more remarkable because Wise Children isn’t to my taste and is far out of my wheelhouse

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    I love Angela Carter's prose: the sentences dance together, perfectly matched, creating a sinuous harmony of prose that's almost poetry. Wise Children is no different. In telling the story of the Misses Dora and Leonora Chance, the "Chance Sisters" whose rhythmically clicking heels have lighted up many a music hall stage, Ms. Carter has not spared any expense, choosing to spread the paint in loud, garish brushstrokes. For are they not the twin daughters (albeit born on the other side of the blan I love Angela Carter's prose: the sentences dance together, perfectly matched, creating a sinuous harmony of prose that's almost poetry. Wise Children is no different. In telling the story of the Misses Dora and Leonora Chance, the "Chance Sisters" whose rhythmically clicking heels have lighted up many a music hall stage, Ms. Carter has not spared any expense, choosing to spread the paint in loud, garish brushstrokes. For are they not the twin daughters (albeit born on the other side of the blanket) of the great Shakespearean actor Melchior Hazard? Dora tells the story-and does it in such a bawdy style reminiscent of the music hall that you get carried away. It is a wildly improbable story, full of clandestine affairs, terrible disasters and great revelations-yet somehow unreal, as though we are watching a burlesque play. The girls are bastards of the great Melchior, born during the first world war, abandoned by their mother and brought up by Grandma Chance and their father's twin brother Peregrine. Even though their father do not accept them publicly, their story is always entwined with the story of the Hazard family, as Melchior moves from the drama stage to Hollywood and back again, picking up three and discarding two wives in the process. He has twin daughters from his first wife and twin sons from his third, and they all interact in wildly improbable ways throughout this kaleidoscopic novel. It would not make any sense to describe the plot, so I will not attempt it-even if I were able to do so! Suffice it to say that there are artifices and deceptions aplenty, and nothing is what it seems to be...rather like a Shakespear play... In fact, the spirit of the great bard, especially the bawdiness of his comedies, is present throughout the narrative. This novel could be Angela Carter's tribute to him. Also, the vulgar light of the music hall makes itself felt on each page. This is show business, and after some time, we start asking ourselves: is anything for real? As Nora asks Dora towards the end-does their father really exist? Or is he a pasteboard creation of their imaginations? The other persistent theme is that of twins. One active, one passive: one quiet, one sprightly: one good, one evil... Even the city of London, split by the river into "twins": the North, respectable and the South, vulgar. Diametrical opposites permanently linked together. The novel aptly ends with the arrival of a new set of twins. The question then arises: for such a many-layered story, why only three stars? Well...the book had a bit too much of vulgarity in it for me. Maybe Ms. Carter did it on purpose, but the constant references to semen (especially on one occasion, the presence of it on a young man's moustache after he has oral sex with another man) put me off. Also the numerous instances of incest didn't help. But I confess it is entirely a matter of personal taste. So the verdict: a well-written, fast-paced literary novel, but perhaps not everybody's cup of tea.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    “What a joy it is to dance and sing!” Twins Nora and Dora Chance turn 75 today; their father, Shakespearean actor Melchior Hazard, who has never publicly acknowledged them because they were born out of wedlock to a servant girl who died in childbirth, turns 100. At the last minute an invitation to his birthday party arrives, and between this point and the party Dora fills us in on the sisters’ knotty family history. Their father is also a twin (though fraternal); his brother Peregrine was more o “What a joy it is to dance and sing!” Twins Nora and Dora Chance turn 75 today; their father, Shakespearean actor Melchior Hazard, who has never publicly acknowledged them because they were born out of wedlock to a servant girl who died in childbirth, turns 100. At the last minute an invitation to his birthday party arrives, and between this point and the party Dora fills us in on the sisters’ knotty family history. Their father is also a twin (though fraternal); his brother Peregrine was more of a father to them than Melchior, with “Grandma” Chance, the owner of the boarding house where they were born, the closest thing they had to a mother growing up. By the time they’re teenagers, the girls are on stage at music halls. After a jaunt to Hollywood to appear in Melchior’s filming of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they’re back in time for wartime deprivation and tragedy in South London, and decades of shabby nostalgia follow. It’s a big, bawdy story that has, amazingly, been compressed into just 230 pages and has one of the best opening sequences I’ve come across recently. There are five sets of twins in total, with multiple cases of doubling, incest and mistaken identity that would make Shakespeare proud. The novel is composed of five long chapters, like the acts in a play, with a Dramatis Personae on the last two pages (though it might have proven more helpful at the start), and the sisters even live at 49 Bard Road. Dora’s voice is slang-filled and gossipy, and she dutifully presents the sisters’ past as the tragicomedy that it was. This was my fifth book by Carter, and now a joint favorite with The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories – but I liked the play that little bit better. (Through a Granta giveaway on Twitter I won two tickets to see it at London’s Old Vic theatre on October 18th.) (Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck, where I also review the theatre adaptation.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    The more I thought about this book after reading it, the more I realized that four stars just isn't enough to express how much I enjoyed it. Wise Children is a lovely book in which there is never a dull moment, and I do mean never. It is funny, audacious, bawdy, and often flat-out farcical crazy, and I loved every second of it. Why is that, you might want to ask, and my answer is that above all, it is just teeming with life. The novel begins at 49 Bard Road, Brixton, London, South West Two. It's The more I thought about this book after reading it, the more I realized that four stars just isn't enough to express how much I enjoyed it. Wise Children is a lovely book in which there is never a dull moment, and I do mean never. It is funny, audacious, bawdy, and often flat-out farcical crazy, and I loved every second of it. Why is that, you might want to ask, and my answer is that above all, it is just teeming with life. The novel begins at 49 Bard Road, Brixton, London, South West Two. It's a special day -- the Chance sisters ("Chance by name, chance by nature") are celebrating their seventy-fifth birthday. Notice I used the word "their" -- the women are twins: our narrator, Dora, was born just five minutes ahead of her sister Nora. On this day, Dora gives a "little shiver," because she knows that "something will happen today." She doesn't "give a monkey's" what it is -- as she says, "Just as long as something happens to remind us we're still in the land of the living." It's also the day of the centenary birthday celebration of their father, the actor Sir Melchior Hazard, "though not, ahem, by any of his wives." The title of this book comes from an old saying that is brought out now and again here: "It is a wise child that knows its own father," and one thing Carter does quite well in Wise Children is to examine the idea of parenthood -- not just on the paternal side, but the maternal as well. As Dora notes at the beginning, some readers may want to know "Just who is this Melchior Hazard and his clan, his wives, his children, his hangers-on," so her role is to "provide some of the answers:" "It is in order to provide some of the answers to those questions that I, Dora Chance, in the course of assembling notes towards my own autobiography, have inadvertently become the chronicler of all the Hazards..." and with that, we are launched into a saga which, as W.B. Gooderham notes in a Guardian article, "contains all the juicy Shakespeare tropes of ambition, greed and revenge; fathers and daughters; brothers and sisters; twins, mistaken identity, incest and adultery." I would love to just go on and on about this book, but time and all that. The truth is that I'm sure I could read this book another two or three times and find something new I'd missed before -- that's just the sort of book it is. Anyone who hasn't read this novel is in for a treat -- I can promise that this book is one of a kind, and that it is a story not soon forgotten. It's a lovely book, really, and it's sad to think that this was the last book Angela Carter ever wrote. There's a reason I love her work, and this book is just one example of why.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is my second venture into the work of Angela Carter. My first was 'The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories' - apparently the work of hers best-received; however, though I found much in that story collection to admire and even enjoyed much of it quite a bit, this novel (Carter's last published work) surprised me considerably, and I feel it's a refreshing leap forward. Carter began writing it after learning she'd been diagnosed with lung cancer. ~ which becomes particularly significant as you ma This is my second venture into the work of Angela Carter. My first was 'The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories' - apparently the work of hers best-received; however, though I found much in that story collection to admire and even enjoyed much of it quite a bit, this novel (Carter's last published work) surprised me considerably, and I feel it's a refreshing leap forward. Carter began writing it after learning she'd been diagnosed with lung cancer. ~ which becomes particularly significant as you make your way through the revelations described by the novel's protagonist: Dora Chance. From the get-go, Dora is our narrator. She begins by telling us that today is her 75th birthday; one that she shares with her twin sister Nora. As it whimsically happens, it is also the 100th birthday of their father - renowned stage actor Melchior Hazard - and *his* twin brother, the confirmed bachelor and world traveler Peregrine. Since childhood (when they were sudden, if peripheral, star-ettes), the Chance sisters had believed (because they were told; because they were illegitimate) that Melchior was, in 'fact', not their biological father but Peregrine *was*. This in spite of the fact that neither Dora nor Nora have Peregrine's vibrant red, "foxy" hair... a telling trait shared by Melchior's legal progeny, the twins Saskia and Imogen. (Oh, and there are *other* twins too - but anywho...) It's that kind of story. And that's just a taste; a mere morsel in Carter's picaresque panorama: a valentine to the theater. Carter has no overriding message to deliver (unless it's a celebration of life; potent in itself); she doesn't even have much by way of a plot. BUT... she does have plenty of crazed merriment and libidinous revelry up her sleeves - and she unfurls both with wild linguistic skill and equally wild abandon. This is one wacky tale - and Dora is one entertaining mistress of ceremonies. As well, as one of the children of the book's title, she is also the harbinger of family insight - as shown in this gem passed down from 'Grandma' (which, to me, is the most convincing explanation of war): "Every twenty years, it's bound to happen. It's to do with generations. The old men get so they can't stand the competition and they kill off all the young men they can lay their hands on. They daren't be seen to do it themselves, that would give the game away, the mothers wouldn't stand for it, so all the men all over the world get together and make a deal: you kill off our boys and we'll kill off yours. So that's that. Soon done. Then the old men can sleep easy in their beds, again." It's likely theater folk who would cheerfully take to this extravaganza most. There's an unabashed zaniness here of the type found in director Vincente Minnelli's own tribute to thespians, 'The Band Wagon'. But there's also heightened chaos of a darker nature - somewhat akin to Nathanael West's 'The Day of the Locust' - when members of the novel's bargain-basement Redgrave dynasty are whisked off to Hollywood to film 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. (The author sprinkles more than a fair amount of Shakespeare before she's done.) Still, Carter is essentially congenial. The dominant spirit is not unlike what one would find in, say, Patrick Dennis' 'Auntie Mame'... only with a soupçon of magical realism; employed, for example, when Peregrine makes his entrance late in the book at a present-day family reunion, engulfed by a cascade of rare butterflies. The concluding reunion section may actually be my favorite part of the book, wrapping all things up as it does in Shakespearean fashion. After whipping the reader up into a high-riding frenzy, Carter slowly applies the brakes to a rewarding and warmhearted full-stop.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ygraine

    may 2020: one of the cleverest, most compassionate, most knowing books i've ever read ! gleeful & grinning & slightly glassy-eyed every time i get to the end of it ! march 2017: there is so much to love in forty nine bard street, the threadbare glamour and vibrant, warm soul of the building and its women. their world has seen better days, but with every page, dora breathes life back into cold, dusty rooms, old, arthritic joints, long forgotten desires and long hidden secrets. and despite the many may 2020: one of the cleverest, most compassionate, most knowing books i've ever read ! gleeful & grinning & slightly glassy-eyed every time i get to the end of it ! march 2017: there is so much to love in forty nine bard street, the threadbare glamour and vibrant, warm soul of the building and its women. their world has seen better days, but with every page, dora breathes life back into cold, dusty rooms, old, arthritic joints, long forgotten desires and long hidden secrets. and despite the many conflicts on which the precarious chance/hazard dynasty is balanced, this is a book about living while you're alive, moment by moment, falling in love over and over, feeling, hating, forgiving and starting over.

  16. 4 out of 5

    L

    Oh, icky, icky, icky. I literally fell asleep trying to read this. I cannot think of a more uninspiring narrator; she even made an anecdote about jism boring. The characters drink gin, dress up like old-timey movie stars, and have a scandalous story to tell about their births (twins). All of that adds up to a nap. How can one ever possibly make gin uninteresting, you ask? I'm not sure because I drank enough of it reading this crap to forget it all. But I trust my prior assessment.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Abbie | ab_reads

    3.5 stars Wise Children was one of those weird books where, when I was reading it I was enjoying it, but when I wasn’t, I didn’t really feel like picking it up. There’s such a huge cast of characters that it was quite hard to keep track of who’s who and what relationships they have, and once when I checked the character list at the back, it spoiled a plot twist for me! A bit annoying. . But as I say, I did enjoy it when I got into the flow of it! The narrator is one of many sets of twins in this bo 3.5 stars Wise Children was one of those weird books where, when I was reading it I was enjoying it, but when I wasn’t, I didn’t really feel like picking it up. There’s such a huge cast of characters that it was quite hard to keep track of who’s who and what relationships they have, and once when I checked the character list at the back, it spoiled a plot twist for me! A bit annoying. . But as I say, I did enjoy it when I got into the flow of it! The narrator is one of many sets of twins in this book, Dora, a 75-year-old former showgirl who lives with her twin and best friend Nora, and she is hilarious. She’s recounting their colourful life and that of their huge (and rather incestuous) family, and several parts had me giggling out loud! . I really enjoyed reading about all the scandal and drama of the crazy family, their affairs, their betrayals, their hopes and dreams. I did mention incest, so be warned that that is a thing in this book. Obviously all incest is bad, but I thought the last one was like, really bad. I didn’t really think it added anything to the story. I’m also not big on my Shakespeare so a lot of references probably went over my head! . Overall though, I enjoyed the themes of sexuality, especially women’s, that were addressed, and I thought it was a fun, vibrant, witty read and I’ll definitely be reading more Carter in the future.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    3.5, rounded up. This is my first time reading Carter, and this - her final novel - appears to be atypical from the rest of her canon (which appear to be mainly macabre modern fairy tales). This put me in mind of Patrick Dennis' Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television/Belle Poitrine/as told to, being a faux autobiography of twin sisters who never QUITE make it in show biz, but have a whale of a time trying for fame and fortune. It took awhile for it to a 3.5, rounded up. This is my first time reading Carter, and this - her final novel - appears to be atypical from the rest of her canon (which appear to be mainly macabre modern fairy tales). This put me in mind of Patrick Dennis' Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television/Belle Poitrine/as told to, being a faux autobiography of twin sisters who never QUITE make it in show biz, but have a whale of a time trying for fame and fortune. It took awhile for it to appeal, in that the languid first half seemed to have little momentum ... or point. But the second half finds its groove, and the set pieces (a failed film adaptation of Shakespeare's' MSD, the 100th birthday of the patriarch) are both ribald and quite delightful. Not sure if Carter is really my cuppa, but I did eventually enjoy this quite a lot.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    There is something wonderful about an Angela Carter novel. A certain charm. A feeling of a warm blanket that you pull over yourself and then the cat jumps on it and sticks her claws into your leg. That sort of feeling. Wise Children is Carter’s last novel and is a love song and dance to the theater and Shakespeare. Many of the plot devices that Carter uses are adapted from Shakespeare, for instance the constant use of twins. There are so many twins (or are there?) in this novel. For you must rem There is something wonderful about an Angela Carter novel. A certain charm. A feeling of a warm blanket that you pull over yourself and then the cat jumps on it and sticks her claws into your leg. That sort of feeling. Wise Children is Carter’s last novel and is a love song and dance to the theater and Shakespeare. Many of the plot devices that Carter uses are adapted from Shakespeare, for instance the constant use of twins. There are so many twins (or are there?) in this novel. For you must remember Puck from Dream. In part, the novel does have a dream like quality. As Dora and Nora move throughout their lives, chronicling the change in taste in stage and the rise of Hollywood and the game show, they also chronicle the changes in British society as the family develops, shifts, and changes. What really compels the book is Dora’s voice. Carter’s narrative use of the voice propels both the book and the reader forward. She is totally unedited and unrepentant. She is a bawd. She is a Moll Flanders. She is a woman Shakespeare could have created. On my older review of this book (below), I wondered why it hadn’t been made into a movie. Well, it still hasn’t been made into a movie, but there is a stage version. Actually, I really want to see Glenda Jackson do this book. She would be wonderful. There are so many layers to this novel. Immigrant, class, war, peace, and above all the conceits of acting, Shakespeare, and the theatre. OLDER REVIEW The first book I ever read by Angela Carter was The Bloody Chamber, which I read because Ellen Datlow &Terri Windling listed it as one of the most read fairy tale based books. (As an aside, I discovered a great many writers and books much sooner than I would've thanks to D&W. Thanks ladies, from the bottom of my heart). While I love Chamber in particular the title story, I now think that my favorite Carter work is this book. What really makes this book is the narrator Dora Chance. A crusty, at times foul mouthed, old dame, she is one of those characters who could quite easily step off the page. (And why this book hasn't been made into a movie, I don't know. Dame Judi Dench could be the twins in their later in life years). It truly does feel that Dora is right next to you, in one of those smoky English pubs that no longer really exists because of the smoking ban, have a gin with you, telling you the whole sordid, messy, humorous story. Dora and her twin sister, Nora, are the illegitimate daughter of an acting scion. They are never, truly acknowledged by their father, but by their uncle Perry and, strangely, their father's wife, 'Wheelchair' aka Lady A. What Dora unfolds for the reader is the family story, worthy of any soapy soap opera. She does so in a unapolgetic, unrepenent tone. This was the way it was, if you don't like it; hoof it style of speaking. It has wonderful lines like, "Saskia . . . unique amongst mammals, a cold-blooded cow" or "Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people". And I now do wonder about Mrs. Lear. There is much of Ellen Terry and her crowd in the characters, much of the bardioloatry that took hold of the world. Carter mocks all of this, gently. A wonderful funny book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    Everything Angela Carter wrote was interesting, but for me, this last novel was her best. Full of humour and imagination, this Gothic theatrical tale is a book I must read again some day.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    I probably spent the longest time reading this book compared to all the other books I read due to the complexity and complicatedness of its plot and the unsettlingly eccentric cast of characters. What an experience! A clever book deploying magical realism and saturated with parodies that left me feeling accomplished and simultaneously dizzy upon reading it. I despised it so much but I loved it just as much, which was why I had to finish reading it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lee Foust

    This is a delightful novel, by turns hysterically funny, sweet, and just tragic enough to make us appreciate the delights of the lives it depicts. The voice and character of the narrator is more than charming. And, even if she rambles a bit and the plot proceeds sometimes in a kind of ad hoc order, we can easily assign these flaws to our narrator's age and the general vagaries of telling the stories of so many inter-related family members. Of the three Angela Carter novels that I've read, this is This is a delightful novel, by turns hysterically funny, sweet, and just tragic enough to make us appreciate the delights of the lives it depicts. The voice and character of the narrator is more than charming. And, even if she rambles a bit and the plot proceeds sometimes in a kind of ad hoc order, we can easily assign these flaws to our narrator's age and the general vagaries of telling the stories of so many inter-related family members. Of the three Angela Carter novels that I've read, this is the only one that lives up to the savvy beauty of her short stories. And I think it's the strength of the character and the theater setting that allows for Carter's pithy and showy style to stay fresh for 200+ pages. The themes are admirably developed; naturally, conversationally, and subtly as Dora the narrator chronicles three generations of Hazards and Chances. The different and yet the same relationship between the two words here functioning as family names is repeated in the four sets of twins produced in the two families in question, some legitimate, others not, some female and some male. Presenting families and siblings in this binary manner reminds me of Peter Greenaway's film A Zed and two Noughts, where Zebras and twins, Z's and double zeroes, stripes and circles challenge our conceptions of similar selves and opposing others. To me this conflict between similarity and difference lies at the heart of our human experience of kinship, heredity and family life--cohesion and conformity to a clan and the process of individual differentiation by each of those same clan members--which explains why identical twins make a particularly interesting study of familial relations and how we're all both individuals and yet identical to a group of others we call kin. Wise Children therefore cuts to the heart of the family drama with its twins, family renegades and conformists, illegitimate children owned up to and legitimate children reneged upon, male and females juxtaposed, husbands, wives, mistresses, and lovers interchangeable as clothing. What it all means, what being both a family member and an individual, depends upon what you think Dora's story amounts to in the end.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    ‘Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people.’ Wise Children is an effervescent and tumultuous family saga that gives the Bard himself a run for his money. Carter has delivered us a stunning tribute to Shakespeare and showbiz in this gloriously life-affirming tale, somewhat at odds with her darker, more macabre earlier works but wonderful all the same. Meet Dora Chance: a talkative and bawdy old biddy, she’s excellent company. Despite her twilight years and evident nostalgia, there is not one s ‘Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people.’ Wise Children is an effervescent and tumultuous family saga that gives the Bard himself a run for his money. Carter has delivered us a stunning tribute to Shakespeare and showbiz in this gloriously life-affirming tale, somewhat at odds with her darker, more macabre earlier works but wonderful all the same. Meet Dora Chance: a talkative and bawdy old biddy, she’s excellent company. Despite her twilight years and evident nostalgia, there is not one shred of self-pity in her words. Instead, her narrative is infused with a gritty determination to live life to the full, until the last heartbeat. Her voice is energetic, witty and hilarious. And perhaps this is made all the more poignant when one learns that this is Carter’s last novel (*cries*) - she had been diagnosed with lung cancer during the gestation period of Wise Children but completed the novel despite the pain that she had to endure. She would die at the hands of the disease not twelve months later. Wise Children is saturated with astonishingly tender familial bonds amid the chaos and heady atmosphere of the theatre. Dora advocates how it is in our power to create and cultivate our own history, even if there is little existing history to extrapolate from; familial bonds can extend beyond blood. The lives of the Chance sisters are no less eventful and complicated than any good Shakespeare comedy, and the plot is never short of botched love affairs, awkward misunderstandings or mistaken identities. The trials and tribulations that unfurl once the curtain has fallen are as richly dramatic as the events that unfold on the stage itself. But the relationships that exist alongside make it all incredibly fulfilling, gratifying and redeeming. Bravo, Angie. She continues to defy categorisation: compare this ribald realism to the magical realism of Nights at the Circus, the Gothic allegory of The Magic Toyshop or the coiled eroticism of The Bloody Chamber. Wise Children is a testimony to Carter’s wonderful sense of humour, resolution and endurance. It is, above all, thronging with life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    Dora tells the story of her and her twin, Nora, unrecognized illegitimate daughters of the great Shakespearean actor, Melchior Hazard, from their birth at the beginning of the century, to Melchior’s hundredth birthday party, a narrative that progresses chronologically, but with jags and with hints and clues which remind us that we are dealing with that tricky stuff, living memory. Apart from referring to Shakespeare and his plays, Carter cleverly adds as much Shakespearean twists into her own sto Dora tells the story of her and her twin, Nora, unrecognized illegitimate daughters of the great Shakespearean actor, Melchior Hazard, from their birth at the beginning of the century, to Melchior’s hundredth birthday party, a narrative that progresses chronologically, but with jags and with hints and clues which remind us that we are dealing with that tricky stuff, living memory. Apart from referring to Shakespeare and his plays, Carter cleverly adds as much Shakespearean twists into her own story as she can: twins, a young woman drowned for love, a jealous husband who murders his wife, thankless daughters, questionable paternity, characters dressing up like each other, etc. This is never clunky, but seems a living, organic part of her loud, colorful and carnival-esque tale. And, eventually, one remembers with a surprise that streak of magical realism hidden up her sleeve. This is a masterful work – light and frivolous in tone, but is superbly worded and has playfully sharp dialogue. And, like a magic tent, it’s bigger on the inside that it seems on the outside.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Megan Baxter

    I trust my sister's choice in books, but I was a little startled when I picked up this book that it was about the theatre. I don't know why that should startle me, except that I scarred her once by exposing her to a bunch of actors, and she's seemed a little leery since. At the remove of fiction, though, this was apparently right up her alley, and I'm pleased to say that it was exactly to my taste as well. Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and I trust my sister's choice in books, but I was a little startled when I picked up this book that it was about the theatre. I don't know why that should startle me, except that I scarred her once by exposing her to a bunch of actors, and she's seemed a little leery since. At the remove of fiction, though, this was apparently right up her alley, and I'm pleased to say that it was exactly to my taste as well. Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here. In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  26. 5 out of 5

    MTK

    A hilarious tour-de-force spanning a century of the history of theatre and a family's life, told in a remarkably convincing voice. I could have done without the bonus incest; it didn't seem to serve any point.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Descending Angel

    Took awhile to get into the writing style which was expectedand then it just clicked and flowed beautifully. Alot of it is kinda a flashback/history of the Chance twins and it's interesting, it's funny and there's alot of casual incest and illegitimacy of children. The story is probably it's weakest part but it does enough. The characters and the classic Carter banter is really what makes this (her last novel) so good.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hilary

    Fantastic wild, funny, clever, bawdy writing. Angela Carter knows and loves Shakespeare and uses him to examine people and their plotting as well as the Bard does. One of my very favorite books of all time.

  29. 5 out of 5

    c.s.

    sisters/mothers/grandmas + loss/memory + living in a house filled with dust motes & cobwebs. beyond all the Shakespearean stuff, i felt so much of this book + there were so many special moments. there is a grand old house in which the twin sisters live in that reminded me so much of the movie gray gardens - little edie! empty cat food cans, the old smell of mothballs, piles of the past. "...a bowl full of potpourri on a worm-eaten oak chest in the hall gave out a smell of old ladies and heart br sisters/mothers/grandmas + loss/memory + living in a house filled with dust motes & cobwebs. beyond all the Shakespearean stuff, i felt so much of this book + there were so many special moments. there is a grand old house in which the twin sisters live in that reminded me so much of the movie gray gardens - little edie! empty cat food cans, the old smell of mothballs, piles of the past. "...a bowl full of potpourri on a worm-eaten oak chest in the hall gave out a smell of old ladies and heart break." i could write so much about this alone. another special part of this, to me, was the relationship/s (or lack thereof) of fathers. "i used to want him dead." who knows what a Shakespeare work about mothers + daughters + sisters + grandmas would have been like. i guess i don't have to wonder because angela carter did it for him.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I read my first Angela Carter novel last year, The Magic Toyshop, reviewed here http://www.lovelytreez.com/?p=50 and it was such an enjoyable reading experience I fully intended to read Wise Children soon afterwards...well, better late than never and what a wondrous ride it was. Wise Children is narrated by Dora Chance, twin sister to Nora and illegitimate daughter of Melchior Hazard, the renowned Shakespearean actor. It's the twins' 75th birthday and Dora takes this opportunity to recount the dr I read my first Angela Carter novel last year, The Magic Toyshop, reviewed here http://www.lovelytreez.com/?p=50 and it was such an enjoyable reading experience I fully intended to read Wise Children soon afterwards...well, better late than never and what a wondrous ride it was. Wise Children is narrated by Dora Chance, twin sister to Nora and illegitimate daughter of Melchior Hazard, the renowned Shakespearean actor. It's the twins' 75th birthday and Dora takes this opportunity to recount the dramatic story of their lives, born on the wrong side of the tracks in South London and into a life of musical theatre as chorus girls (aka "hoofers") which is but a faint copy of their natural father's "legitimate" acting career. However, fear ye not, that won't deter the Chance sisters from treading the boards, living life to the full and ending up having a less complicated and perhaps more enriching life than the legitimate children of Melchior. Wise Children has copious amounts of twins and this twin theme mirrors the themes of illegitimacy versus legitimacy (not just in terms of birth), upper class and lower class, illusion and reality. However this is most certainly not a dull social treatise but an absolute powerhouse, rollercoaster ride of a tale with Dora very firmly at the helm. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved Dora, an old gel who likes to give the impression that she doesn't give a damn yet she takes in the invalid ex wife of Melchior who has been abandoned by her upper class twin daughters. Being upper class is obviously not contingent upon being charitable and or/loyal. At the outset I must admit to being rather befuddled by the huge array of characters in this tragi-comedy, but a quick glance at the Dramatis Personae will keep you right and let you sink into the story. I would hope that this list of characters now appears at the front of the novel rather than at the back where I found it, rather frustratingly, when I had read the last page! "Design faults" aside, Dora's story has echoes of Shakespeare, Dante, Boccacio, Greek drama alongside the more low-brow allusions to music hall performers with their lewd jokes. Actually there is probably not that much difference between the high and the low at all - just that the likes of Dora and co tell it as it is rather than couching their words in obtuse, metaphorical language. There is so much exhuberance and engagement with life in Wise Children and given that it was written after Angela Carter was diagnosed with cancer, I can't help wondering if this is her song to life, her legacy for her young child, as the closing lines state "What a joy it is to dance and sing!". And what a joy it is to have read this madcap, life affirming novel - if I am blessed to live into my 70s, I certainly want to adopt some of Dora's philosphy rather than slipping into grumpy old woman mode!

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