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Wise Children by Angela Carter
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Wise Children (1991)

by Angela Carter

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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Nobody does bawdy quite like Angela Carter. This is A Comedy Of Errors via South London music hall and it's as ludicrous and brilliant as that sounds. ( )
  haarpsichord | Nov 5, 2018 |
Definitely held up to the reread. Just as fantastic as I remembered! I love this book! ( )
  capriciousreader | Mar 20, 2018 |
This took me forever to read--I maxed out renewals and had to re-request, and wait, and finally got it again.

I am lost as to why this is on the 1001 books list. It is nothing special, and I found it exhausting to read. It's not exactly stream of consciousness, but is narrated by Dora Chance, identical twin about age 80, discussing her showbiz (stage mostly, first half 20th century) life with her twin sis, her extended complicated family of foundlings, cheaters, divorces, and many half siblings of different ages. Not funny, just very tiring. Also , very long chapters.

Not for me at all. But it's done! ( )
  Dreesie | Aug 15, 2017 |
Wise Children was Angela Carter’s final novel. It is a glorious, bawdy extravagant novel, hilariously irreverent with more than a nod to Shakespeare. In this comic celebration of a century of show business, Carter weaves a magical story around the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families; the Hazards and the Chances. Their connections to one another are wonderfully convoluted and unreliable, their relationships frequently improbable. It is a novel of pairs, there are several sets of twins, one twin of each pair, being more extravagant than the other. Much of the action takes place in London, a city divided by a river. This duality is one of the main themes of the novel.

The novel is narrated by Dora Chance, one of a pair of identical twins, she and her sister Nora were The Lucky Chances, born on the wrong side of the tracks – they have spent their whole lives in the theatre, song and dance girls, and their legs are still pretty good – for their age.

“Yes, indeed; I have my memories but I prefer to keep them to myself, thank you very much. Though there are some things I never can forget. The cock that used to crow, early in the morning, in Bond Street. And I saw a zebra once, he was galloping down Camden High street, his stripes fluoresced. I was in some garret with a free Norwegian. And the purple flowers that would pop up on the bomb-sites almost before the ruins stopped smoking, as if to say, life goes on, even if you don’t.”

The sisters are devoted to one another, though Nora always wanted a child, they take some comfort in their goddaughter Tiffany, who now appears on a trashy TV game show.

The novel opens in Brixton, South London, where Dora and Nora were born, and lived with their grandmother after their mother’s death. It is their seventy-fifth birthday – it is also Shakespeare’s birthday, and it is the birthday of their one-hundred-year-old father – a giant of the theatre himself – who has never publicly acknowledged his daughters. Melchior Hazard is their famous father (although paternity is never certain in this novel) whose first wife, Lady A – now called Wheelchair by Dora and her sister – live with the Chance sisters. A Shakespearean actor, Melchior often sports a gilded cardboard crown. Melchior is himself a twin – his brother Perry adored by his nieces and assumed by many to be their father – vanished abroad many years earlier. There are two other pairs of twins, and in true Shakespearen fashion, confusions over paternity and identity abound. Dora and Nora have been told they are the product of a brief encounter between their mother Pretty Kitty and Melchior Hazard. Their grandmother wastes no time in pointing out their absent father, on their seventh birthday, during their first visit to the theatre.

Neither sister ever marries, although they both come close. Nora is the one who falls in love all the time, even sharing her boyfriend with her sister on their seventeenth birthday, but at the end of the day, the sisters can’t be separated.

“Nora was always free with it and threw her heart away as if it were a used bus ticket. Either she was head over heels in love or else she was broken-hearted. She had it off first with the pantomime goose, when we were Mother Goose’s goslings that year in Newcastle upon Tyne. The goose was old enough to be her father and Grandma would have plucked him, stuck an apple up his bum and roasted him if she’d found out and so would the goose’s wife, who happened to be principle boy.”

On this, their seventy-fifth birthday an invitation arrives for Melchior’s birthday party later that day. It is the first of a number of surprises that day. In the hours before the party, Dora tells the story of their life, a life in the theatre, a life which takes them to Hollywood with their father to make a film based on A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Her stories of love affairs and theatrical characters are told from a distance of decades. Dora is a real character, a rambling old woman who says it just like it is, a lovable teller of tales, she’s not an entirely reliable narrator. The life she describes is one of bed hopping, theatricals, long lived relatives and the great joy that it is to sing and dance.

The novel ends where it starts on the day of Dora and Nora’s seventy-fifth birthday. They get ready for the party – plenty of makeup and star spangled stockings, and they and Wheelchair arrive at the party, to be greeted by the flash of paparazzi cameras – and where they find Melchior enthroned on a great chair, wearing a purple kaftan. Dora had known it would be an eventful day, and as the party progresses there are more surprises and revelations – not to mention one more inappropriate bunk up.

Wise Children was a big success with me, thank you those people who suggested I read it – you were quite right. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Mar 25, 2017 |
Sat on my to-read pile for about seven years. When I finally finished it, I was honestly a little disappointed. It's all a little too crafted, full of structural patterning and surface references to Shakespeare (the sort of book that provides English undergraduates love to mine) but ultimately it felt a little emotionally shallow.

Deeper engagement with C20th British light entertainment, and a bit less of the Magical Realism-lite family history, would have fixed it. Gorgeous George deserved a whole book to himself.

Given it extra points for being probably the only novel ever to reference Leigham Court Road in Streatham. ( )
2 vote sometimeunderwater | Feb 1, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Wise Children inhabits its own manic universe and would probably translate into a spirited, bawdy musical comedy-farce of the kind in which the Chance sisters themselves performed, long ago.
added by arcaedia | editThe New York Times Book Review, Joyce Carol Oates
 
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Epigraph
Brush up your Shakespeare. -- Cole Porter

It's a wise child that knows its own father. -- Old saw

How many times Shakespeare draws fathers and daughters, never mothers and daughters. -- Ellen Terry
Dedication
First words
Q. Why is London like Budapest?

A. Because it is two cities divided by a river.
Quotations
There was a house we all had in common and it was called, the past, even though we'd lived in different rooms.
I tried to laugh but it was wry. I was sad. Sad. Nothing more than sad. Let's not call it a tragedy; a broken heart is never a tragedy. Only untimely death is a tragedy.
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.
When I was young, I'd wanted to be ephemeral, I'd wanted the moment, to live in just the glorious moment, the rush of blood, the applause. Pluck the day. Eat the peach. Tomorrow never comes. But, oh yes, tomorrow does come all right, and when it comes it lasts a bloody long time, I can tell you. But if you've put your past on celluloid, it keeps. You've stored it away, like jam, for winter.
“Yes, indeed; I have my memories but I prefer to keep them to myself, thank you very much. Though there are some things I never can forget. The cock that used to crow, early in the morning, in Bond Street. And I saw a zebra once, he was galloping down Camden High street, his stripes fluoresced. I was in some garret with a free Norwegian. And the purple flowers that would pop up on the bomb-sites almost before the ruins stopped smoking, as if to say, life goes on, even if you don’t.”
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014017530X, Paperback)

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 Melchoir 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:03 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and Chances.

» see all 4 descriptions

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