The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


The Magic Toyshop is a book I have had my eye on for a while, and forms part of the Virago Modern Classics list which I am hoping to read my way through!  I hadn’t previously read anything by Angela Carter, but her name was one that was familiar to me, with The Magic Toyshop being a title that I was drawn to.

Originally published in 1967, The Magic Toyshop introduces us to Melanie, a fifteen year old girl who is beginning to discover more about herself, her body and her sexuality. And in the opening chapter we are see her wander into the garden, dressed in her mother’s wedding dress, and climbing a tree – an intriguing contrast for Melanie’s childhood and her approach to adulthood. But soon after, Melanie is left shocked by a family tragedy, when she learns that her parents have died. As a result, the orphaned Melanie is forced to move to London, along with her younger siblings Jonathan and Victoria, where they find themselves in the care of some rather unusual relatives. Uncle Philip works in a toyshop, where he spends painstaking hours making mechanical toys and handmade puppets that he uses in puppet shows for his family. This family includes his wife Margaret, who unfortunately is not shown the same level of care as her husband’s toys. Bullied into submission, she is mute, and communicates in the form of written notes. She also lives with her two brothers, and again there is a contrast between their character. I was intrigued by this story and its unusual cast of characters, so was keen to see how events would unfold.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this book but what I found was a strange story that deals with some interesting and uncomfortable themes. Despite being a story set in the 1960’s, it has something of a Dickensian feel to it, and as I read on it also had the feel of a surreal fairytale. There were points in the book where I struggled to get into the story but the eccentric characters and intriguing plot kept my interest. There is certainly a lot of powerful imagery in this book, which helps bring Melanie’s story to life, along with that of the sinister toys and puppets made by her Uncle. There are also a lot of bizarre moments, and elements of magical realism. But amongst it all this could be considered a story of femininity and women’s roles in society, with Melanie being a girl on the cusp of womanhood, whilst her Aunt is a woman who has been forced to silence. And as events build to a dramatic conclusion, I was left to wonder what lies ahead for these characters, in the aftermath of some surprising events and revelations.

The Magic Toyshop proved to be an interesting start to my discovery of more Virago Modern Classics books, and as an introduction to Angela Carter’s writing. There are other books by Angela Carter which I have heard recommended so would be interested in reading more of her work.

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