Review – The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

Format: Paperback 204 pages


Virago Press Ltd


My Rating = A

A coming of age tale with a twist – following the sudden death of her parents, our protagonist, Melanie, finds herself and her two younger siblings shunted off to stay with a fiercesome uncle and his bizarre family.  Melanie embarks on a strange voyage of self discovery, learning about love, life and lascivious relatives en route.

A seemingly simple plot conceals an elaborate, Gothic tale as our heroine, not unlike Lewis Carroll’s Alice, finds herself thrown into a weird, unfamiliar world peopled with grotesque characters.  Nothing ever seems clean in this new environment, the lines between right and wrong become increasingly blurred and the reader is forced to question previously held beliefs about good and evil.  

None of the characters are particularly appealing – Aunt Margaret is a mute who lives very much under the thumb of Uncle Philip who is not quite your archetypical kindly toymaker.  Margaret’s unkempt brothers, Francie and Finn, are almost dehumanised, also reduced to puppet like creatures manipulated  by Philip.

In stark contrast to the grimy, claustraphobic setting, Angela Carter’s writing style is beautifully lyrical.  Thus, the macabre and the grotesque seem more palatable and less disturbing to the reader.  Elements of the Gothic, Grand Guignol, Hammer Horror and a pinch of Shirley Jackson (We Have always Lived in the Castle) make this short novel a rollercoaster ride of powerful sensations – those of a nervous disposition and those who prefer neat, tidy endings would do well to stay clear!  This was my first taste of Angela Carter’s writing and I have a feeling I am going to savour the rest of her novels with equal satisfaction.

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  1. Sam Boarder says:

    Brilliant review T, really looking forward to reading this one.

  2. admin says:

    Have you read any others by Angela Carter, Sam? Which would you recommend? I don’t know why I’ve left it so long to read her, considering that The Company of Wolves is one of my favourite films. I have Wise Children and Fireworks on TBR pile.

  3. I’m so glad that you enjoyed your first taste of Angela Carter, Teresa! I hadn’t recognised the hints of Shirley Jackson but I only discovered Jackson last year.

    I hope that you love Wise Children (it’s one of my favourites) and Fireworks; I also highly recommend Nights at the Circus and The Bloody Chamber.

  4. admin says:

    Thank you for your comment, Claire. I discovered Shirley Jackson for the first time about a year and a half ago although We have Always Lived in the Castle had been on my wishlist for ages – my lovely husband bought me a copy as a surprise. I must read Wise Children soon and also the Shirley Jackson, The Lottery. Now that I think of it, I definitely sensed elements of Doctor Who in The Magic Toyshop too – Angela certainly inspired a lot of folk!

  5. Nymeth says:

    I’ve only just read this too, and like you I very much enjoyed it. I strongly disliked Uncle Philip, but I didn’t mind the other characters despite how complicated and er, unorthodox their relationships were. And the writing was brilliant as always. Carter was truly one of a kind.

  6. admin says:

    Thanks for your comment, Nymeth. Yes, they were a rather unorthodox bunch, weren’t they…but I loved the way Angela Carter transcends all that nonsense and makes us question ourselves.

  7. Jessica says:

    Because of the Shirley Jackson comparison I may have to put this on my wish list, I still have the Lottery to read which I have owned for a while now.

  8. admin says:

    Hi Jessica, thank you for your comment. Which Shirley Jackson novels have you read? I really should seek out more of her books but seem to get sidetracked by a rather large TBR pile plus the many temptations of weekly visits to the library with my children! Such a hard life, eh?

  9. [...] Teresa is given her first taste of Carter by reading The Magic Toyshop and finds the “macabre and the grotesque … more palatable” because of its “beautifully lyrical” prose. [...]

  10. [...] read my first Angela Carter novel last year, The Magic Toyshop, reviewed here and it was such an enjoyable reading experience I fully intended to read Wise Children soon [...]

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