The story revolves around the twin Chance girls, music hall performers and illegitimate daughters of the great Shakespearean actor, Sir Melchior Hazard. The novel is underpinned by opposites and contradictions. It draws on a rich variety of high and low culture – music hall, cinema and Hollywood, theatre and Shakespeare – and features central themes of doubling (or twinning), identity, fatherhood and legitimacy/illegitimacy. It is fast paced, comic and entertaining, and for these reasons is considered to be more approachable than some of Angela Carter's earlier works, such as the provocative Sadeian Woman (1979).
Carter spent much of her childhood and later life in south London, and Wise Children is a mourning for a lost era of Lyons tea shops, and also a celebration of the dizzying linguistic richness of London's inhabitants. It gains its metaphorical strength from the geography of the city. Wise Children is Carter's last work. After her death in 1992 at the age of 52, Carter became one of most widely taught novelists in British universities. Part of her appeal lies in the way her works defy genre, playfully combining elements of surrealism, Gothic, magic realism, traditional fairytales, feminism and postmodernism.