Along with Macbeth, The Great Gatsby, and a story I read as a kid about a boy who gradually fell to pieces (I could sort of relate to him being a sufferer of eczema and clumsiness), this is one of the few books I have ever re-read. I am not a massive fan of re-reading books – I find it takes the suspense out of the story…a few paragraphs in and I’ve remembered every twist and turn the book has to offer. However, this book is an exception.
Narrated by Dora, one half of the Chance Sisters’ dance act, this story is incredibly complex. With a rich plethora of dirty laundry, elephants and skeletons to ring out, take out of their rooms and clear out from their closets, the Hazard/Chance family layout is something special and, often, completely unfathomable. However, on the second read, a lot of it was so much clearer and I did, in this unique instance, forget a lot of the plot which made it a lot more interesting to see how the story develops and, once again, it surprised me.
Carter has managed to write paragraphs in this novel which sometimes skim a century’s worth of family history of showbiz, adultery and inappropriate giggles whilst acting on stage.
Wise Children, very loosely based on the story of King Lear, consists of many allusions to Shakespeare and is inspired by all things East and West end of London. Eastend twins Dora and Nora are the illegitimate children of Melchior Hazard (twin brother of the enormous Uncle Perry) and the late Pretty Kitty. The landlady, a helping hand during their lethal birth (on the same day as the birthday of The Bard himself), has chosen to take them on as her own – that lady is the heroic, alcoholic and eccentric Grandma Chance, whose name Dora and Nora make famous in their youth and infamous with age.
Bursting through the roof with twins, both identical and fraternal, most of the characters have a sort of “partner in crime” or an “alter ego”, with tricky circumstances as a consequence. Melchior and Perry are a fine example of twins being un-identical in every manner possible…apart from their promiscuity and tendency of being “less of a man, more a travelling carnival”.
This book is amazing, but definitely for people 18+. I say this mainly due to the fact that there are many, many adult themes and out right sexual references. However, I know somebody who read this when she was 13 and, although she did love it, she didn’t fully understand every bit of genius crammed into this novel and I think that’s a great shame. Having said that, there are a few people my age who couldn’t stand it…I think it needs a maturer mind set to understand this book. I’m basically an old cat lady thriving in an 18-year-old’s body so I think that’s why I love it so much.
So, if you are in your own reminiscent years, or you are old beyond your years like myself, you should love this book just as much as I do! Even if you don’t think you’ll like it, with all it’s controversies and shocking complexity, I really think it’s well worth your time giving it a shot. I won’t lie, not everybody will love it but I certainly do and I know there are many out there who will too!