WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ALI SMITH
A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter's witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins, and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.
Carter, a splendid British writer ( The Magic Toyshop ; Nights at the Circus ) all too little known here, has a real winner in this giddy tale of a highly eccentric British theatrical family. Nora and Dora Chance are twin sisters, former vaudeville dancers not beyond some high-stepping sex even at age 75, living in a once rundown but newly smart area of South London. Dora tells their tale, and her narrative voice is a triumph: deeply feminine, ribald, self-deprecating (on their birth: ``We came bursting out on a Monday morning, on a day of sunshine and high wind when the Zeppelins were falling''). Their mother, seduced by the legendary actor Sir Melchior Hazard, dies giving birth; the girls are brought up by the landlady, and eventually come to nurture one of Melchior's several cast-off wives. Meanwhile, his brother Peregrine, who once set off to wander the world. . . . The extravagant family comes together for a lavish 100th birthday party for British institution Sir Melchior, at which skeletons galore clatter out in full view of a national TV audience. The party is one magnificently unforgettable set-piece. The other is the filming, in Hollywood in the late '30s, of a terrible version of A Midsummer Night's Dream , by a culture-mad producer--one of the funniest and most deadly portraits of moviedom ever penned. But the whole book is comic writing of the highest order: spry, witty, earthy and oddly touching at times. It was a large success in Britain, and deserves to do as well here.