Review: The Magic Toyshop

Short post today, I have so much reading to do (uni, but still fun), I can’t seem to concentrate on one book enough to write down my thoughts in a manner that will make sense to people not in my head. So apologies for my ramblings but since I am reading Virago books for Virago Reading Week I still wanted to share.

Angela Carter’s works have been on my radar for ages but so far I’ve always chickened out of actually reading anything by her. But this is a new year and I’ve recently gotten over my intimidation of Rushdie, so when I saw that Rachel and Carolyn are hosting a Virago Reading Week, it seemed like the perfect occasion to delve into Carter’s world.

Starting a book with a lot of preconceived notions is nearly always a problem, but I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed. The Magic Toyshop is completely amazing though not nearly as disturbing or weird as I expected. It’s foremost a coming of age story, namely that of 15-year-old Melanie who discovers and relishes in her newfound sexuality. However, when she and her siblings are suddenly orphaned, Melanie is confronted with the darker side of human interactions and sexuality. While she is at home, Melanie is free to explore her sexuality (going as far as to perform in front of a mirror), but when she and her siblings move to their uncle’s place in south London, she and her body seem to become something of a territory to be explored and conquered by men. There is Finn, whom she is both repelled by and attracted to, and of course her uncle who tries to exert control over her by deciding over her clothes, her speech and finally by trying to re-enacting Leda and the Swan.

The use of speech in this novel is certainly interesting. Uncle Philip uses it as a means of control; Melanie is told only to speak when addressed directly, and her aunt  has fled or been suppressed into speechlessness and has to use writing as a means of communication. The uncle does seem to prefer his family to be as silent as his puppets and suppressing their speech is one way of putting strings on his family. Uncle Philip’s love for his puppets is pretty creepy, as are the puppets. And I don’t know how weird that makes me, but I really expected there to be more to them (like being murdered people made into puppets. Should probably stop reading Joyce Carol Oates’ short stories).

What I also loved was Carter’s ability to create such atmospheric prose. It’s nearly lyrical in places but never too flowery or merely decorative. Are all her novels like that? I read that this was one of her earlier works, so I really want to see what she went on to achieve. The Magic Toyshop is amazing, but I think that aspects of power relations, gender and those dark and twisty instances of magical realism could be more pronounced.

For my second Virago read this week I chose Mad, Bad and Sad which is great so far. I’m happy I read The Female Malady last year, so now I can compare how Appignanesi and Showalter approach the subject (and I can nod knowledgeably when names and theories I’m familiar with pop up 😉 ).

What are you reading this week?


Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Verity’s Virago Venture

Another Cookie Crumbles

Lovely Trees Reads


Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

23 thoughts on “Review: The Magic Toyshop

  1. I’m glad you liked it, Bina, I also ordered it from Amazon in preparation for this week, but haven’t had time to get to it yet! I think I’m a little put off by the creepiness, but also wanting to explore Angela Carter’s prose and a unique coming of age story — the first few pages I read on Amazon really sold me! The cover is interesting, is that the edition you have?

    I also own Mad, Bad, Sad, I bought it in hardcover when I worked in a bookstore and could get books at a discount, but still haven’t read it yet. And I’ve been hearing about Elaine Showalter lately, I’ll have to investigate her.

    1. This is the edition I got from the library 🙂 It is a bit creepy, but not as much as I expected so perhaps you won’t mind that.

      Showalter is amazing! Mad, Bad and Sad os so great, but I’m still working through it. My edition is also hardback and weighs a ton 😉

  2. Interesting review, Bina! I liked your description of Carter’s prose – “It’s nearly lyrical in places but never too flowery or merely decorative.” So beautifully put! I love the cover of the book you have posted – so beautiful!

    Hope you are enjoying Virago week!

  3. Great review, Bina! I love Angela Carter and I’m glad you enjoyed her. I am desperate to read Mad, Bad and Sad – I look forward to your thoughts. 🙂

    1. I’ll have to read so much more by Carter, if she’s this good 🙂 Mad, Bad and Sad is great, definitely worth lugging a 500 page hardback with me on my commute 😉

    1. Must! 🙂 It’s great, and together with Showalter I think I know a lot more about Britain, women and psychiatry than a lot of other stuff now.

  4. I am not reading anything as intriguing as this sounds, I’ve settled for some good old fashioned crime and mystery in a book called Rabbit in the Moon, only a couple of chapters in can’t really comment yet.

  5. I took this book out of my library for VRW but haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m actually glad that to read that it’s not as disturbing or weird as you expected!

  6. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed this one!
    I’ve been meaning to read it for awhile, but I think I need to actually buy a copy so that when the right mood strikes me I’ll have it on hand. It sounds like the kind of book I’d have to be in a certain mood for to enjoy.

    1. I think you’re right with that, it’s a book you have to really be in the mood for. But then you’ll probably love it 🙂

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