This is a fantastic novel and is Angela Carter’s final novel. It’s also the first novel of hers that I’ve read, having only read her short fiction (with mixed feelings) before this. Here we have the narration of Dora, who along with her identical twin sister Nora, find themselves on the 75th birthdays in about 1990 looking back on their life in the theater, the burlesque stage, and at their family history. The novel has a complicated structure, that if this were a class, we might map out, but one that feel like complicated structures memory. This is not a story that begins in the present, jumps to the very beginning, and then checks with in the present from time to time. Instead we do get a rundown of Dora and Nora’s present, living in a large house along with various odds and ends members of their family. We jump much farther back then to the story of their mother getting pregnant and dying, their being adopted by their grandmother, and being raised in a single parent household not even knowing what role fathers play. As the novel progresses this question of what is a father returns when they do find out that their father is a famous actor which helps to launch their life on the stage (in more than one way).
The novel is incredibly endearing, sweet, sharp, sad throughout, and really funny. We begin with the perhaps feelings that the sisters are some sort of Grey Gardens types, but it’s clear that they are not the sad results of chaotic life of unfulfilled promise as we rewrite the expectations of fulfillment.