Dear Angela Carter,
You have now been dead for thirty years, stolen away by cancer at the height of your powers. You left behind your lover and your son, and a legacy of extraordinary writing that burned a hole through the walls around the literary canon. This happened before I’d read a single word of yours. When I came to know you through your writing, I was sad to realise we’d never meet. I wanted to tell you how much your stories meant to me.
I first read you when I was 19 years old. I was an English student, eager and gauche, trying to work out my identity in a rainy northern city where I measured my freedom in pints drunk and girls kissed. I read The Passion Of New Eve for a ‘Women Writers’ course, my favourite module in a degree that left me variously intimidated, bored or uncertain. Your novel would light a fire in me: about the power of books to subvert, to persuade and to seduce. Your writing seduced me, utterly.
I got my highest ever mark for the essay I wrote about your 1977 novel, published the year I was born. Reading that essay back is painful, but I can still sense the vibrating excitement I felt then. I was amazed by the characters you had written, their subversion of gender norms. Your subversion of the very concept of gender. It electrified me.
Over the years I’ve read and re-read all your stories, sometimes for study but mostly for pleasure. When I met my now-partner, I pressed a copy of Nights At The Circus into her hands into which I’d inscribed “A story about what happens when things are meant to be”. I’ve always believed in the magic of your stories. I always loved that you wrote happy endings that broke every mould of ‘happily ever after’.
Even now, thirty years after your death, I wish I could stand shyly in front of you and tell you that. Instead, I honour your talent by singing your praises to others. I always will.
Thank you for the power of your storytelling.
Also, sincere apologies for the tortured and naïve analysis of that essay. I still had an awful lot to learn.
Yours, Catherine Riley
'This is a book about the untidy, complicated underbelly of love and love's end. Funny and true, wise and utterly authentic, you will recognise yourself over and over. I loved it.' Kit de Waal
Did you mean to marry me? Did you understand the vows that we took? J's wife has left, and J is trying to understand why. How could someone you loved so much, who claimed to love you once, just walk away? How could they send divorce papers accusing you of terrible things, when all you've ever done is tried to make them happy?
Narrated by J in the days, weeks and months after the marriage collapses, and interspersed with the departed wife's diary entries, Is This Love? is an addictive, deeply unsettling, and provocative novel of deception and betrayal, and passion turned to pain. As the story unfolds, and each character's version of events undermines the other, all our assumptions about victimhood, agency, love and control are challenged - for we never know J's gender. If we did, would it change our minds about who was telling the truth?
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