I love Angela Carter's prose: the sentences dance together, perfectly matched, creating a sinuous harmony of prose that's almost poetry. Wise Children...moreI 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.
Obviously, it is an important work. It showcases the miniaturist tradition of the Islamic world, and uses the cloist...moreI am in two minds about this book.
Obviously, it is an important work. It showcases the miniaturist tradition of the Islamic world, and uses the cloistered world of miniaturists to explore the difference in philosophies between the East and the West. It was all the more interesting to me because I have been fascinated by this difference ever since I began viewing paintings with serious interest. In the East, "perspective" does not exist: the painting flows seamlessy over space and time whereas in the West (especially since the Renaissance) the painting is the reproduction of a particular moment in time (we are not talking of abstractions here). The miniaturist paints the world as God sees it: he does not sign the painting, nor does he have an individual style, because he is unimportant. He continues painting (in fact, he paints better!) after he inevitably goes blind. The Frankish painters, in contrast, paint the world as we see it, which is blasphemy according to some of the miniaturists.
I was captivated by the sweep of the book as well as the way it was presented: short chapters, each from the viewpoint of a different character, as though we were looking at a book of miniatures which tells a different story on each page. Moreover, it is a murder mystery in which the victims as well as the murderer directly speak to the reader! It bears a certain resemblance to "The Name of the Rose" in this regard, although Eco's book is much more powerful according to me.
Coming to the minuses: the writing is cumbersome and a task to wade through. I do not know if this is a problem with Pamuk's writing or the translation. The characters are flat: the protagonist (Black) is too weak and cowardly: the heroine (if we can call her that!) too self-centred and manipulative. Maybe the author intended them to be like that, but it does lose reader interest.
I was also rather put off by the amount of lust bubbling on each page. Homosexuality, incest, paedophilia, bestiality, fetishism... everything is there, simmering just beneath the surface. Young boys are regularly presented as objects of lust. Men kiss each other passionately, even when one is about to kill the other! I have heard that Turkey was the centre of "deviant" sexual practices during Ottoman times, so maybe it is a true picture, but it did not vibe with me.
So...adding the negatives and positives, I will go for three stars.(less)