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The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
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"The Magic Toyshop" (original 1967; edition 2009)

by Angela Carter

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1,289306,081 (3.84)136
Member:alexandra_hw
Title:"The Magic Toyshop"
Authors:Angela Carter
Info:Virago Press (2009), Hardcover
Collections:Your library, Read
Rating:****
Tags:2012

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The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (1967)

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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
This is a very good Gothic novel, with wonderful prose, although it didn’t have much of the subversion of tropes that is sometimes found in Carter’s work. There aren’t really any magic realist elements either. However, there are plenty of dark and bizarre set pieces and twists, and the depiction of Melanie’s isolation and unhappiness at finding herself a Dickensian orphan in a repressed and uncomfortable household is excellent. I wasn’t completely on board with the resolution to a number of plot threads and the ending is rather abrupt, but overall this is another captivating Carter.

Melanie is on the cusp of adulthood and constantly thinking about love, marriage, and growing up. Her father, a successful author, and her mother are on a lecture tour of America while she and her brother and sister are at home. Her curiosity about sex and whether she is beautiful and Lady Chatterley’s Lover reaches a climax when she tries on her mother’s wedding gown and decides to wander around in it outside in the moonlight. This turns out to be not as romantic as she thinks. Almost immediately after, the children receive word that their parents have died in a plane crash and they are bundled off from their comfortable life to live with Uncle Philip, their mother’s brother, an eccentric toymaker. His wife, Aunt Margaret, is a sadly beaten down woman who doesn’t talk but frequently communicates with her eraseboard. Her two brothers also live with them – neat and quiet Francie, a fiddle player, and disheveled, sarcastic Finn who is learning the trade from Uncle Philip. Uncle Philip himself is largely absent from their day to day life, but he is an oppressive, menacing presence in the old house and his real passion – a puppet theater – becomes increasingly threatening to Melanie.

The writing is wonderfully evocative. A number of the setpieces – Melanie creeping around in the wedding dress, her hearing some night music, a walk with Finn to the ruined exposition grounds, a charged rehearsal and performance for the puppet theater - are memorably described and modern twists on Gothic tropes. However, I think my favorite passage was just a description of Aunt Margaret’s Sunday attire. Many of Carter’s other works are takes on fairy tales, and in this one, Uncle Philip is repeatedly compared to Bluebeard. But even with a few scenes that strain at the more realistic feel of the novel, besides the writing, the best part is the depiction of Melanie’s loneliness on losing her parents and leaving her home. Despite the fact that she has a brother and sister, she is still lonely. Jonathon has always been lost in the world of model shipbuilding and he continues that at their uncle’s house. Victoria is the baby and acts like one – she is immediately taken up by Aunt Margaret, who has no children. The little changes – the unpleasant bathroom – and significant ones – Uncle Philip’s violence and controlling attitude – both affect Melanie, and although they moved from the country to London, the family is even more isolated - the house and shop are dark, old, creaky and almost out of the 19th century. I didn’t especially care for Finn, who could be creepy but was also the object of Melanie's romantic thoughts, and thought some of his storyline was predictable. The ending is somewhat rushed and bizarre. Overall though an engrossing and well-written read. ( )
3 vote DieFledermaus | Apr 20, 2015 |
This, she told herself, was the harsh, unloving truth, the black, bitter bread of life; the tenderness of the lavish past was tenuous, insubstantial. Page 94

Melanie is the eldest of three children from a well to-do upper middle class family. The only life she and her siblings has ever known is changed overnight with the death of their mother and father overseas, leaving them penniless and orphans. They are sent to live with their strange uncle whom they have never met and life is not only vastly different from what the've known, it is filled with strange and mysterious happenings that defy explanations and understanding.

I'm not sure what to make of The Magic Toyshop in that I didn't find anything remotely close to magical in the story itself. Melanie is coming of age, discovering the world around her is perhaps more twisted than what she once thought, while at the same time, discovering that the stirrings and longings of a girl, soon to be a woman, is vastly more complicated that she could have imagined. I wasn't able to connect fully with the story or the characters despite some atmospheric charms, so rather than feeling satisfied, I'm left with a gnawing sense of confusion. ( )
  jolerie | Apr 8, 2015 |
I just didn't like it. I acknowledge that it's well written, so I can't give it a terrible rating. But it's Sooooo utterly dark and angry and depressing. It's "good".... but really wasn't enjoyable for me. Maybe if I had read more uplifting books lately, I wouldn't have felt so dragged down by it, but I came off of a couple of dark, angry books and ... honestly, when I finally finished the (200 page!) book, I could hardly bring myself to pick up another book.... (so glad I chose [The Martian]!!)

It's about ... well, it's weird because it's NOT about a magic toyshop. So, yeah, there's that. There's a toyshop, but ... there's no magic there. There's a hint of maybe supernatural or gothic or something ... like 3 times. Just a hint. But that's it. And ... it's easy to chalk it up to exhaustion, imagination, stress... rather than ANYthing supernatural at all. So you think you're reading a book about magic, but it's just not.

Melanie loses her folks and has to go live with her uncle in a dirty, poor part of London. Her formerly rich and lavish life takes a severe nosedive as she attempts to navigate a world in which the patriarch is an abusive, angry, oppressive force. And poor 15-year-old Melanie struggles with not being the loved, pretty, spoiled girl she once was, as her 12-year-old brother withdraws further into himself and her 5-year-old sister essentially forgets her former life. Along with her uncle are his mute wife (who is only ever referred to as "dumb") and her two brothers, one of whom Melanie finds herself simultaneously repulsed by and drawn to. And the uncle is a toy maker who hates many of his customers, and he is obsessed with life-sized puppets, which is creepy and weird.

So yeah. It's like a creepy, weird, dark, depressing story about terrible things happening to people. Terrible things. But yes, it is well written. Carter has a talent.

So overall, three of 5 stars. Not enjoyable, but well done, if the story sounds like your kind of thing (and it apparently is for a LOT of people who really love this book). ( )
  avanders | Feb 6, 2015 |
As ever, Carter delivers magic in the ordinary and extraordinary. Melanie, oldest of three siblings, is passing into middle class adolescence and maturity. With her parents away, she dresses in her mother's wedding dress and loses herself in the wild night and the apple tree. Too young for the adult world, but on the cusp, bereavement takes her to the Magic Toyshop and the care of its fantastical inhabitants. What happens there as she grows up and catalyses drama and disaster, is fantastical, disturbing and exhilarating.
  otterley | Apr 12, 2014 |
There's only one thing better than a good book, and that's a good book that introduces you to a brand new author. Angela Carter may well just be my new obsession.

Carter's writing is at times, exquisite and at times, harrowing. This has all the elements of a fairy tale but goes much deeper than that. Sex, feminism and incest all get a look in. This book is both claustrophobic and liberating.

The ending is abrupt and a little jarring because of that. With hindsight though, what else was there left to say?

( )
  ElaineRuss | Sep 23, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Angela Carterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baiocchi, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Callil, CarmenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The summer she was fifteen, Melanie discovered she was made of flesh and blood.
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Book description
From the cover: "This crazy world whirled about her, men and women dwarfed by toys and puppets, where even the birds were mechanical and the few human figures went masked... She was in the night again, and the doll was herself."
Melanie walks in the midnight garden, wearing her mother's wedding dress; naked she climbs the apple tree in the black of the moon. Omens of disaster, swiftly following, transport Melanie from rural comfort to London, to the Magic Toyshop.

To the red-haired, dancing Finn, the gentle Francie, dumb Aunt Margaret and Uncle Philip. Francie plays curious night music, Finn kisses fifteen-year-old Melanie in the mysterious ruins of the pleasure gardens. Brooding over all is Uncle Philip: Uncle Philip, with blank eyes the colour of wet newspaper, making puppets the size of men, and clockwork roses. He loves his magic puppets, but hates the love of man for woman, boy for girl, brother for sister...

In this, her second novel, (awarded the 1967 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize) Angela Carter's brilliant imagination and startling intensity of style explore and extend the nature and boundaries of love.
Haiku summary
Bluebeard's Castle hides
a puppeteer of humans
who defy their fate.
(ed.pendragon)

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One night Melanie walks through the garden in her mother's wedding dress. The next morning her world is shattered. Forced to leave the rural home of her childhood, she is sent to London to live with relatives she has never met.

(summary from another edition)

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