I first encountered Carter when I studied one of her collections of short stories – The Bloody Chamber – during my A Levels. A decade ago, so that must have been the tenth anniversary of her death, a fact I didn’t know then and never would have guessed; the language felt too raw and immediate to belong to the past, even the recent past.
The beautiful language, humour, magical realism and exploration of femininity in all its forms are strands that run through her other work. While for me The Bloody Chamber will always be definitive – I fell in love when I was 17 and teenage passions have a way of holding onto your heart – I recommend her other stories and novels, too.
Carter was born in Eastbourne in 1940, and first worked as a journalist in Croydon before studying English at Bristol university. Her early novels are set in the town. One of these, Several Perceptions, won the Somerset Maugham award – she used the money to leave her husband and spend two years in Japan before travelling in living across Asia, Europe and America.
I know now that Carter died young, aged only 51, of lung cancer. She left behind an impressive body of work, but it’s still tempting to wonder what else she would have produced if she had lived longer; at the time of her death she was working on a sequel to Jane Eyre.
Tonight, I will be re-reading The Company of Wolves and thinking of Carter’s words from an interview she gave four years before her death:
"I was reading "The Company of Wolves" the other day, and there are a whole lot of verbal games in that that I really enjoy doing, "the deer departed," for example. People very rarely notice these when I’m reading them, but I think if you read it on the page. […] That’s the sort of thing I like doing. These are sort of private jokes with myself and with whoever notices, and I used to enjoy doing that very much."