Book Review – Wise children

Wise children by Angela Carter is largely told as a long set reminiscences by Dora Chance – looking back over a career in music hall with her twin sister Nora (one of many sets of twins) and tempestuous family relationships. They are the illegitimate daughters of Melchior Hazard, a leading Shakespearian actor who refuses to acknowledge them. The characters are larger than life theatrical types. The writing is rich and humorous.

There were elements of a current tragedy/mystery set up in the first chapter and more could have been made of this plot thread. It got wound up easily and neatly in the final scene not unlike the way some of Shakespeare’s comedies round off.

The book was not everyone’s cup of tea – some loved it including the elements of magical realism, but others found it confusing and rambling. The book is a celebration of theatre and Shakespeare – it is packed with references – I suspect I missed many more than I picked up. However in addition it asks questions: about paternity and the role of absent fathers, about the boundaries between legitimacy and illegitimacy, between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture.