The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Summary from Goodreads:

One night Melanie walks through the garden in her mother’s wedding dress. The next morning her world is shattered. Forced to leave the comfortable home of her childhood, she is sent to London to live with relatives she never met: Aunt Margaret, beautiful and speechless, and her brothers, Francie, whose graceful music belies his clumsy nature, and the volatile Finn, who kisses Melanie in the ruins of the pleasure garden. And brooding Uncle Philip loves only the life-sized wooden puppets he creates in his toyshops. The classic gothic novel established Angela Carter as one of our most imaginative writers and augurs the themes of her later creative works.

Carter hardly needs an introduction. Her works have, alongside those of her contemporaries Rushdie, McEwan, and Ishiguro, become canonical. I’ve read her previously for pleasure and for Uni but I was especially excited to dive back in after reading  Edmund Gordon’s brilliant biography The Invention of Angela Carter. Seriously, if you haven’t read it get it right away – even if you’re not a Carter fan.

The highest compliment I could pay Carter is that I could never confuse her writing with someone else’s. Her stories, her imagery, even her sentence structure is just so original and so HER (you’ll know what I mean if you’re at all familiar with her work).

I found myself thinking of Carter’s collection of re-imagined folk tales, The Bloody Chamber, quite often while reading this one – perhaps in part due to her repeated mentions of Bluebeard. But even without these overt references its pretty easy to spot the influence of folklore on Carter’s writing: orphans, a baby being fattened up, the scary paternal figure, the rogue-ish lad, a setting that is both childlike and menacing, explorations of pubescent sexuality, etc.

I know Carter didn’t like to be pigeonholed but I can’t help but define her writing as a style of subversive feminism. She is obviously interested in the female perspective but explores it in such an uncomfortable way. Does this make sense or am I rambling? No matter what your perspective, conservative or liberal, I believe that Carter’s writing will have the power to make you feel uncomfortable. And this is a very good thing. Recommended.

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