As I have said before, any short story collection usually tends to collect 3 stars from me. This is only logical, as any collection will contain the good, the bad and the average: so the mean is likely to cluster around the centre for most (hence the bell-shaped curve of the normal distribution). The exceptions occur when the editor goes out of his/ her way to choose extremely good (or bad!) stories: or when the stories revolve around a common theme, giving and taking from one another, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts - as is the case with the book in question.Wayward Girls and Wicked Women
, edited by Angela Carter, is true to its title. This book is filled with stories about women and girls who are wayward in every way, from society's (read men's) viewpoint: written by authors separated by a century. There are confidence tricksters, prostitutes, lesbians and even murderers-but there are no damsels in distress. Each and every one of these women are their own masters.
Thus we meet the con woman of Elizabeth Jolley's The Last Crop
; the lesbians of Rocky Gamez's The Gloria Stories
and Ama Ata Aidoos's The Plums
; the sexually promiscuous women who revel in their own sexuality of Bessie Head's Life
and Jane Bowles's A Guatemalan Idyll
; and the witches of Colette's Rainy Moon
and Frances Tower's Violet
. There are also young girls coming to terms with their sexuality in a socially unacceptable way (The Young Girl
by Katherine Mansfield and A Woman Young and Old
by Grace Paley) and women who have fallen prey to the familiar devil, drink (Wedlock
by George Egerton, Aunt Liu
by Lo Shu).
All of these stories are not tragedies: not all have happy endings, either. But they have one thing in common - the indefatigable spirit of their heroines (no, I will not use the word protagonist - each of these wayward girls and wicked women are true heroines in their own right).
In style, the stories range from the romantic (Oke of Okehurst
by Vernon Lee) to realist (The Long Trial
by Andree Chedid). Some of them are akin to fairy tales (The Earth
by Djuna Barnes) while some are outright fables (The Debutante
by Leonora Crrington, Three Feminist Fables
by Suniti Namjoshi). One cannot be even called a story, rather a vignette (Girl
by Jamaica Kicaid).
Angela Carter's own story, The Loves of Lady Purple
, is the most powerful story of the collection and the most difficult to categorise. It can be seen either as a fable, dark fantasy, or horror: but whatever be the genre, this dark tale of a puppet come to life, making the dark fantasies of her master a horrifying reality, may be seen to supply the theme for the entire book - a puppet breaking its strings.
A worthwhile collection to read and to keep.