Reviews

February 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

A CARD FROM ANGELA CARTER by Susannah Clapp (Bloomsbury, £10; 106pp)

There are some half dozen British women writers whose work will survive as permanent classics of the late 20th century, forever read and revered. Angela Carter is one of them. She was fierce for feminism and her family, joyful in her fantastical novels, magical realist stories and fairy tales, elegant as an intellectual essayist and bold as an incisive critic. She died too soon, twenty years ago this year, aged only fifty-one. She was a bright delight to anyone who knew her, read her, admired her. Susannah Clapp’s short memoir of her friendship with Angela Carter is wonderfully, colourfully characterised through cheerfully ribald and sardonically surreal postcards sent to friends from her travels, commenting acutely (in a time before Twitter and Facebook) on her activities and attitudes. There will be other, bigger biographies, but none more evocative and enchanting than this richly embroidered sampler precisely stitched in literary petit-point. 

TUTANKHAMEN’S CURSE: The Developing History of an Egyptian King by Joyce Tyldesley (Profile, £18.99; 316pp)

The curse of Tut is supposed to have killed Lord Carnarvon and caused the ‘mysterious’ deaths of several others involved with the archaeological dig that opened the tomb of Tutankhamen, crammed with “wonderful things”, in 1922. Tyldesley, a prolific Egyptologist, is robustly sceptical and wastes no time taking it seriously. The true curse, she suggests, is “the fixation that the general public, thoroughly egged on by the media, has developed with the king at the expense of the rest of Egypt’s long history.” There’s a much better story to be told, she says, and divides it into two parts, the first dealing professionally with the evidence for the boy king’s ten-year reign and his death, followed by a lively consideration of his posthumous career as a superstar celebrity of ancient Egypt. Tutaphiles will be brought up to speed on modern research, while sceptics will be soothed by a cool cultural consideration of the occult.

RIN TIN TIN: The Life and the Legend of the World’s Most Famous Dog by Susan Orlean (Atlantic, £16.99; 326pp)

In anyone’s top famous five of classic Hollywood A-list animals there has to be Lassie, Trigger, Cheetah, Asta and Rin Tin Tin. It will come as a surprise to some fans to learn that Rin Tin Tin was born French and came to the United States as an immigrant. He was found by Corporal Leland Duncan on September 15, 1918, on the bombed-out battlefield of Flirey, one of five blind, bald, new-born German Shepherds. After the war, he took the puppy with him back to California and the rest is the heroic history of an immortal dog star from his first blockbuster films in the rackety early days of Hollywood in the 1920s through to Rinty IV’s revived career in television. It is also the epic story of Rinty’s obsessive “master and friend”, Lee Duncan. Susan Orlean’s moving and astute biography of a canine cinema icon is blissfully, brilliantly done. Woof!

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