This slight volume leaves the reader with a more profound and lasting impression than do most books three times its size. Angela Carter is able to achieve maximum effect in a minimum of space, in part because of her almost poetic sense of rhythm, balance, and economy. Aside from its style, SAINTS AND STRANGERS is chiefly memorable for its often bizarre, always original subject matter. Most contemporary short story collections pale beside the depth and breadth of its imaginative range.
Like William Shakespeare, Angela Carter borrows most of her plots either from history, from legend, or from folklore; what she does with them, however, is indisputably original. A Shakespeare play, in fact, serves as the basis of “Overture and Incidental Music to A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM,” a brilliant exploration of the psychological states of Puck and the rest of the fairies just before the play begins. American history provides the material for “The Fall River Axe Murders,” a sympathetic portrait of the nineteenth century murderess Lizzie Borden, and “The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe,” a similarly fictional/historical portrait of the American poet and short story writer. Other stories deal with Jeanne Duval, the black mistress of the nineteenth century French poet Charles Baudelaire, and “Mary,” a fictional but highly believable seventeenth century English girl who goes to live with an American Indian tribe.
SAINTS AND STRANGERS does not, needless to say, rely on the stuff of everyday life in achieving its effect. To read it is to willingly suspend one’s disbelief and to enter a strange and fascinating world where fairy tales come to life and where magic is still practiced. Indeed, Angela Carter is herself something of a magician.