TITLE: THE MAGIC TOYSHOP
AUTHOR: ANGELA CARTER
Details: Read for discussion in The Loft Bookshop Book Club
This book has such a cute cover and such an innocent and magical title that I was expecting a fairy-tale between the covers. Since this is a book for grown-ups I didn't think it was all going to be lovely and happy ever after, but I definitely wasn't ready for the rather horrific tale I encountered.
Melanie is 15 when her world shatters. Both her parents die in an airplane accident and she and her younger brother and sister have to go and live with their uncle, his wife and her two younger brothers.
From the start it's clear that things are not right. Instead of their uncle picking them up from the train station, it is the two brothers of his wife who are waiting for them there. Irish and unclean they are like nothing Melanie is used to. When they get to the house where they will be living from now on, over their uncle's toyshop, they discover that their aunt doesn't speak and apparently hasn't spoken since the day she married.
It soon turns out that their uncle is a brute who terrorises his family and lives for the toys he makes and the shows he puts on for the family with his life-size puppets.
In this atmosphere of fear and deprivation, Melanie has to grow up quickly. She takes her first steps towards love, which turns out to be nothing like her fantasies and her eyes are opened to some of the more horrific realities of life. This is a situation that can only end in disaster, and so it does.
Sometimes I read a book and think that it is just not good. Other times I read a book and feel that it is probably very well written, but that it is just not for me. This is one of those books that leave me feeling as if I'm missing something.
The story read as if I was looking at a picture through dirty glasses. I could see the outlines but not any depth or colour. Everything that happened, good or, mostly, bad just washed of me. I found myself indifferent to the fate of Melanie and any of the other characters.
The writing in this book was too descriptive for me and seemed to lack feeling, and as a result it didn't evoke any emotions in me.
I also wonder about the author's feelings about men in general. None of the men in this book seemed to have any redeeming qualities. The brutish uncle being the clearest example, but Melanie's distant brother, and the two young in-laws didn't have a lot going for them either.
This is not a happy or uplifting story, and Melanie's resignation to her fate even before her 16th birthday is devastating.