Angela Carter – The Magic Toyshop

10Aug09

I’ll say it, right at the very outset. Straight. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and, believe it or not, the cover is equally fantastic. I did judge the book by its cover, and I am still astounded by how incredible this book is, and I can continue staring at its cover for hours unending.

The plot, in a nutshell, revolves around Melanie, a fifteen year old who plays grown-up one evening, by wearing her mother’s wedding dress. The next morning, a telegram arrives informing her, her two siblings and their housekeeper of the children’s parents’ demise. The children are forced to pack up and leave their life of luxury, and move in with their Uncle Philip, who they’ve never really known.

Life at Uncle Philip is diametrically different from ‘home’ – there is no toilet paper, no hot water, there’s community shampoo, and there are the “red” people – Uncle Philip’s mute wife, and her two brothers: Francis and Finn. Her Uncle, who owns a puppet and toy shop, seems to spend most of his energy on his ‘art’ and less on his family, but nonetheless being an oppressive tyrant, who everyone in the house fears. He comes across as this abominable puppet master, a sadist, a jealous mean miser, who hates Christmas, and resents people who aren’t puppets.

The story focuses on the horrible Uncle, but it’s also about how Melanie comes of age, settles into the family, and finds love and affection for her Aunt, and her Aunt’s brothers – brothers who her Uncle despises, and never fails to remind that they need to earn their keep. It’s Melanie’s story, out and out, from the moment the book starts, with her discovering her own sexuality, and fearing dying a virgin, to, her almost bursting into tears looking at the bathroom at her Uncle’s place (and comparing it to her old one), to, falling in love, and finally, growing up at the tender age of fifteen going on sixteen. It’s a story that starts off at the brink of losing innocence, and progresses with the protagonist falling into a whirlwind of darkness, knowing that life as she knows it is over – and it’s never coming back.

This is a beautifully written, heartbreaking tragedy. It’s descriptive, magical (pun unintended), and almost scary. Life changes in the blink of an eye, and three children are forced to suffer the consequences, and subjugate themselves to a life they have no control over.

They stood on the step and waited for the taxi with black bands on their arms and suitcases in their hands, forlorn passengers from a wrecked ship, clutching a few haphazardly salvaged possessions, and staring in dismay at the choppy sea to which they must commit themselves.

The metaphors, dark imagery, graphic descriptions and quasi-hallucinatory story makes this gothic fairy tale superb. The vivid scenes, be it Leda-Zeus (Melanie and the Swan puppet), or the jubilation of the entire family when Uncle Philip is away, blows the reader’s mind away, and at the end of the book, I was just craving for more.

…And, I don’t think my review has done this phenomenal piece of work any justice whatsoever.

Rating: 5+ {If you stumble upon this book, grab it and hug it tight, and never let it go}

PS: I’ve half thought that Claire @ PaperbackReader can have a blog dedicated to Angela Carter and The Magic Toyshop, and some of its stunning covers. If she ever goes down that road, I’ll be happy to join her / follow each and every post! :)

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12 Responses to “Angela Carter – The Magic Toyshop”

  1. For som reason I thought Angela Carter wrote quiet, observational books with no plot. I never pictured this book as a gothic fairy tale. It shows I shouldn’t go around judging books by their cover!

    I’ve added it straight to the list – great review!

  2. My feelings about this book are almost exactly the same; what a fantastic read it was. Has it inspired you to read more Carter? I’m still quite nervous of her.

  3. Wow, I keep seeing this at Claire’s blog, too, but not sure if I will like her. I’ll definitely keep this in mind after your gushing review! :)

  4. @verity and @claire don’t be nervous! What do you have to lose? If you read more/try her for the first time and don’t like her then, well, at least you tried and no harm, no foul.

    *gets off Angela Carter soapbox*

    A blog dedicated to Angela Carter and The Magic Toyshop… the covers alone would take up some blog space! I love the idea but The Magic Toyshop isn’t one of my favourites (although I do love it) but it doesn’t compare to Nights at the Circus, The Bloody Chamber, and Wise Children and probably ties in my esteem with The Passion of New Eve.

    I do have something big planned around Angela Carter when the Booker is over so stay tuned!

    I am delighted that you loved this and thought so highly of it; her writing is amazing.

  5. 5 Sarah

    Totally inspired by your review to move Angela Carter off of my mental TBR list and into my physical book stack. But if I will be disappointed if I get a copy with a different cover. That one is gorgeous…

  6. @Jackie : Thanks! Looking forward to hearing what you think of this book. The writing is observational, but not passive, if you know what I mean. You can actually feel the emotions of the characters, and empathize with them (or hate them, as the case may be).

    @Verity : Oh yes! I’m scared though – specially with Claire’s post below, saying The Magic Toyshop isn’t one of her favorites. I struggle to imagine how a book by the same author can beat that, but… I don’t know! I can’t wait to find out, but, there’s a bit of ambivalence here. I think I’ll need to read the second book to get over it.

    @claire : Give it a go! I really do hope you like it though… it’s got all the elements of a classic fairy tale, but it’s darker and scarier.

    @Claire : You’re scaring me!!! I can’t wait to read a couple of her other books, but, I really can’t fathom how they’d top this one. And now, I can’t wait to see what you have planned around Angela Carter. PS : What’s the next book you’d recommend by Carter?

    @Sarah : It is, isn’t it? Let me know how you get on with it – really really hope you do. There’s another fantastic cover, albeit not as colorful as this one: The Magic Toyshop. By the way, had a quick look, and Amazon seems to have this edition as well :)

  7. I would recommend The Bloody Chamber next since you like dark, Gothic fairy tales; it’s short stories though, just so you’re aware (I have a love-hate relationship at times with short stories and most of the love stems from reading Carter). She re-tells classic fairy-tales with a feminist slant and it should ease you in a little more and should bring home that you have nothing to worry about reading more Carter but only further experiences to look forward to.

    • Thanks. Like you, I have a love-hate relationship with short stories. Think the only ones Ive really enjoyed in a collection are Jeffrey Archer’s.

      I’m going to go ahead and order this now. Can’t wait :D


  1. 1 link – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. 2 The Magic Toyshop – Angela Carter « Sarah's Books
  3. 3 Angela Carter Month | Paperback Reader
  4. 4 Review: The Magic Toyshop « If you can read this

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