I confess I haven't read any of Angela Carter's novels, but am besotted with her short stories. So I was excited to see there was a biography just out and was fortunate enough to be among the first wave to get it from the library.
Did the biography live up to my excitement? Not quite. There are good aspects--I really didn't know much about Carter's life, and she lived an interesting one: She up and moved to Japan for a while without knowing a word of Japanese and had two love affairs there; she met her life partner when he was working on a house across the street from hers and she asked him to fix a plumbing problem in her home; she traveled all over the world and knew tons of literary stars, but never found herself overly starstruck about any of them. The excerpts from her letters make me wish that 1. I'd been a recipient of some of those letters and 2. that someone would compile the letters and publish them. (Also: her journals.) She sounds like she was a hell of a correspondent. Author Edmund Gordon appears to have been a thorough researcher and made contact with many people who are still alive (or were, while researching) who knew her and were willing to talk to him. There were also a few who wouldn't talk to him, including Carter's first husband, and there were apparently some sources who had letters they wouldn't share. All of which makes me wonder if we'll see more Carter scholarship as the years go on. People who have those letters must realize how valuable they are and hopefully are planning to donate them somewhere at some point.
That said, I had some problems with the book. Gordon is given to making statement like "she must have felt" without giving us any solid proof that she felt that way. While telling us about Carter's first job in a small town newspaper, where she was the first female reporter, he says the newsroom had a "self-consciously masculine environment." First of all, he wasn't there to know if it was self-conscious or not and doesn't report anyone saying anything of the sort; second of all, of course it had a masculine environment--it had been a boys' club for years. I doubt there was anything "self-conscious" about it. Worse, much of Carter's development as a writer took place during the 1960s and 1970s, yet Gordon barely touches on what was happening socially and culturally during those years, especially for women. He interviewed many of Carter's peers during that time, but doesn't seem to have done any kind of deep dive into that aspect with them, and the book sorely lacks from that.
Where he does go into detail is into the mundane things like how much money she was advanced for every book. This quickly becomes tedious, except for the few times he compares it to what other writers in Britain were earning at the time. But most of the time, it starts to feel like a list: "In X year she sold X book for X pounds. In Y year she sold Y book for Y pounds." This all could have been condensed; the only time it's really important to know the actual amounts is when she took a big leap forward or back. In fact, that approach is kind of how the entire second half of the book goes: "She did this, and then this, and then this. She went here, and then there, and then there. She wrote this, and then that, and then that." It's a bit plodding and made me wish for Hermione Lee's approach instead. It would be much more interesting to look at Carter's life and work from thematic standpoints rather than straightforward chronology.
Finally, one hope I had going into this book was that I'd learn why Carter's amazing story, "The Fall River Axe Murders" (about Lizzie Borden), appeared in a different form in Carter's collected works than in its original form in Black Venus. The altered version leaves out a critical scene that's breathtaking and important to the story. I've always wondered if Carter chose that and why. But that's not even mentioned in this book.
To his credit, the author notes in an epilogue that he was aware that people might say it would have been better for a woman to write this bio. He defends himself by saying there have been great bios by men about women and vice versa. It's true, but I do think this book in particular lacked a strong female perspective, especially in terms of Carter's feminism, which was not rote and got her into trouble at times. But he also notes that he doesn't expect this to be the only biography of Carter, just the first one, and he hopes other biographers will be able to dive into her life and bring new perspectives to the table, which seems appropriate.
So if you're interested in learning more about her life, this is an OK start, but I'm definitely keeping my eyes open for someone else to tackle this subject. And in the meantime, I have a lot of her novels to catch up on.