Title:The Magic Toyshop
Writer: Angela Carter
Publishing House: Virago
Date of Publication: May 3rd 2018 (first published 1967)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Melanie had never seen uncle Philip. Once, when she was a little girl, he sent her a jack-in-the-box. He was a toymaker. When she opened the jack-in-the-box, a grotesque caricature of her own face leered from the head that leapt out at her.’’
Melanie’s parents die in a tragic accident while on vacation in the USA. Melanie and her siblings, Victoria and Jonathon, are sent to live with uncle Philip and aunt Margaret. They have to leave the comfort, security and luxury of their home and start a new life in London. In the shadow of uncle Philip, hiding from his tyrannical, sinister presence, Melanie finds herself thrown into the world of the adults with all its desires and dangers.
This is one of Angela Carter’s timeless, haunting masterpieces.
‘’She was still a beautiful girl. She went back to her own room and looked at herself again in her own mirror to see if that said different but, again, she was beautiful. Moonlight, white satin, roses. A bride. Whose bride? But she was, tonight, sufficient for herself and her own glory and did not need a groom.’’
Angela Carter creates an oneiric, haunting tale of a young woman whose life is broken. Her loneliness is absolute, her struggle to stay afloat in an unknown, potentially threatening, environment is constant. In the face of Melanie, Carter reflects themes that provide material for the finest of tales. Femininity, womanhood, sexuality. The fine line between enchanting seduction and emotional abuse. The search for freedom through books and fairytales and a world of make-believe and, ultimately, eternity.
‘’Meanwhile, the remaining leaves fell from the sycamore in the square and were swept into oblivion by the stiff brooms of council employees. The nights drew in earlier and earlier, clothed in sinister cloaks of mist like characters by Edgar Allan Poe. Melanie stood with her face against the cold glass of her window-pane, seeing not the bleak yard and the lights blossoming in the backs of other hoises but berries reddening on the hedges around home and field glinting with frost. Smoke from bonfires of dead leaves caught the throat.’’
With Bluebeard references throughout the story and the myth of Leda and the swan at its very heart, with toys and puppets and pre-Raphaelite paintings, Carter’s unique writing takes us to a world where one cannot tell the difference between dreams and nightmares, a world where the moonlight plays along with shadows in the thick night.
‘’Melanie, was forever grey, a shadow. It was the fault of the wedding-dress night, when she married the shadows and the world ended. All this was taking place in an empty space at the end of the world.’’