Thursday, February 07, 2008

book review - Wise Children

Sometimes when you read a book there is a quality of voice that carries through the reader and adds to the experience. Most voices that you come across tend to be from people going through the transition from childhood to adulthood. But Angela Carter chooses a narrator in the shape of a 75 year-old twin dancing girl who delightfully leads you through her past and present.

The story of Dora and Nora Chance is one of family, love (often the absence of it) and the wisdom of knowing your place in the world. It reads as if it was a transcript of a conversation with an aged aunt over a cup of tea and some lemon drizzle cake, told over many hours on a wet and cold Sunday afternoon. But this is not just the stuff of memories and it concludes with the sisters wandering through Brixton very much looking forward to the future.

What ties it all together is the search the twin sisters have for recognition from their natural father, Melchior Hazard. He is himself suffering from damage done by his father, but that is only revealed at the end. The only person from the Hazard family to give the girls any recognition is their uncle Perry who keeps them in dancing lessons and shoes and brightens up their lives. The girls grow up under the influence of their grandmother but do have a successful break into Hollywood. A large chunk of the story concentrates on the hollow nature of the US film industry and the girls eventually escape back to England.

But all of the book has been leading up to the climax of Dora and Nora’s father’s 100th birthday. On a night of numerous revelations the twins are finally recognised by their father and get the chance to put a happy full stop to that story.

The book is a joy to read and once the weird cast of characters becomes familiar it does become easier to follow. The things that you are left with at the end of the story arte not just contemplating on the importance of family and love but also harking back for a lost age. The dance hall that the girls became stars of was killed off by cinema and lack of popularity but that doesn’t mean it was replaced with anything better.

The title refers to a saying about the wise child knowing their own father. At the end they know him slightly better but more importantly they know themselves. Their sense of need was fulfilled by the other twin and the only real moments of anxiety in the story comes when Dora and Nora might be separated. But this is a story of optimism and ends with the twins, both 75, heading off into the future in a direction that you could have never expected.

Version read – a QPD (bookclub) paperback

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