The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short story fiction that challenges the concept of the supernatural themes of fairytales as much as it challenges the ideologies and values of its era. And, for that matter, into the modern age. Angela Carter has a prosaic voice which sounds very similar to that of modern authors such as Neil Gaiman or even perhaps Susanna Clarke and yet is remarkably her own. It is a voice which relies upon the sensual and superficial as much as it relies upon the transient and metaphorical. In other words the stories can be read as you would read any fantasy.
One thing that must, must, must be emphasised about this collection is that it is not a rewriting of old fairytales, though it may seem as such at times. It is, instead, a reworking of old fairytales. It is this distinction which is important (if only semantically) in that readers should understand that each of the short stories are unique works by Carter as they stand but are still inspired by the concepts of pre-existing 'fairytale narratives'. The titular work itself is clearly drawn from the tale of Bluebeard and his new wife for instance, although Carter grants her female character a greater sense of agency and voice than in the original inspirational work.
It is this quality which has lead to calling Carter's work 'feminist re-working' and yet it is a mistake for anyone to think of the extremes of feminism - the false 'no men allowed' sides that have sadly been created at times - as being present in this anthology. It is far better, if you are to give this any sort of title, to think of it as 'equalistic reworking' (to dispel the false concepts of uneasy history) in which female and male characters are each granted agency in various ways. However, one can note throughout the book that the stories chosen do reflect at times the concept of men as 'beasts' and villains (though some noble male characters, tortured by curses and other various ailments) do exist. As an overarching way of looking at men from a female perspective it seems to me to be an unfair one, but I do agree that we men do often act according to more violent 'beastly' natures. And, curiously, I found her two tales spinning off from the idea of 'Beauty and the Beast' to be two of the better tales.
Carter's work here is subtle and also sensuous and evocative in the writing. I felt while reading each story that there was a superficial sense of the tone being flirtatious and salacious in its own way, reminding me of the ways in which supernatural literature has come to be re-constructed in more modern eras. There is something about the concept of the forbidden and the fae that Carter seems to indicate is appealing to the adult world. Does it hint to a twist on the ability of us all as children to touch into the subconscious and into imagination more easily? Or is it more a play on primal instinct and desire - a yearning for what we know we should not possess and yet want? These questions are always prompted through each story.
On the whole it is a collection to read if you enjoy more modern works such as Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. I cannot help but believe that Gaiman was influenced in part by Carter, particularly in some of his fairytale re-constructions, and yet Carter has her own way of detailing surfaces and environments that is beautiful, seductive and charming. There is a touch of the Gothic Horror as much as their is a touch of the strange fairytale and that serves to create works which are as unique as they are familiar