Lord's Reviews > The Magic Toyshop

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
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Jan 23, 2012

it was amazing

Normally, I walk into bookstores with a list. I didn’t, this time. I felt adventurous. The bookstore was enormous; there were rows and rows of shelves, winding so far it seemed endless. Shaking with delight at the sight of this, I had to ask a saleswoman what time they closed, as I was certain I would be there all day. And I had to set an alarm on my watch an hour before closing time so I’d not be rudely jerked out of my book-browsing stupor by the announcements and rush to the counter with an armful of books knowing there was still more to buy. I was young and paranoid I would not live another day. Everything had to be bought at once. And yet how is it that I ended up, that day, walking out of that bookstore with only one book?

Among the shelves I had browsed there was one that drew me to it more than the rest. Down, down at the bottom, where I had to squat to see them (and, later, sit cross-legged to read them), were the books of Angela Carter. My memory is fogged by the years that have passed and it almost lied to me and told me that what initially pulled me towards those books were their colourful, quirky covers. But it wasn’t, as, upon reflection, I remember they were lined together showing only their spines. It was their titles that entranced: Nights at the Circus, The Magic Toyshop, The Bloody Chamber, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. And I remember it was in that same order that I saw them.

There was a circus, first, all colour and fun; a magic toyshop, where anything could happen; then, suddenly, there was a bloody chamber — heavens! — and an infernal desire machine — whatever could that be? Instantly, I pulled them out and laid them side by side. What do you know, they had gorgeous covers too.

Something about those titles and covers seemed to reach out and shake something inside me I did not know could be reached out to and shook. I shivered; I was giddy. Who is this woman? Why hadn’t I heard of her? She promised innocence, but there was evil and corruption; that much was evident without even a peak at the blurbs. There were swan-winged women and horse-bodied men; screaming girls in burning castles high atop hills; puppets gone awry in the hands of a cackling man. They seemed like children’s books, but they were not. They were like candy canes in a pool of blood.

And I sat there for a very long time, not reading, simply admiring those books. I was so impressed I was afraid they’d disappoint. I stroked them, flipped through them, put them back on the shelf. I took out The Magic Toyshop. Do I dare? ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘I dare.’ And without even bothering to get up and find a corner in the bookshop, I let myself fall with a thud on the cold marble floor and began to read. Before long my watch beeped. And it seemed as if I came back to reality with a great big pop! What have I just read? I was partway through by this time. The shop was about to close; I drifted to the counter in a kind of daze, with the book open in front of me, still reading it on my way there. In my engrossment I had completely forgotten to grab all the other books by the author. But I’m glad I didn’t, then. When I finished that book that evening, I had nothing else, and was left to swim in the feelings it stirred in me.

I had never before encountered such an author, who seemed to weave her words with a spider's precision, who shocked you and delighted you all at once. In The Magic Toyshop (the first I read, and always my favourite), I found in the character of Melanie, our heroine, someone who echoed the pains of my youth. Those pains were inexplicable until I met her. But Carter had such a way of putting words to those feelings and making them, even in their nakedness and terror, almost beautiful. And I was not close to Melanie’s age, or even her gender. She broke past all that and found her way to my soul. Holden Caulfield couldn’t hold a candle to her; his angst was too obvious, his manner too rough. He wasn’t a mirror of me.

Melanie was, with her quiet, hidden fears. She was a budding child in a violent, claustrophobic world, in the midst of colours and delights she could never touch: the toys of tyrannical Uncle Philip who seemed to have a life of their own. She and I were Alice, in Wonderland once again, only to find that it made so much sense this time we wished it didn’t. And I shared her pains. I shared her pains. She was not just a character in a book; I cared for her and I wanted to see how her life turned out. If there was hope for her there was hope for me.

Carter’s writing is akin to a Pre-Raphaelite painting; there is such attention to detail in her work that it gives you a vivid, almost claustrophobic sense of setting, so that anything out of logic comes as a shock. They are fairy tales of the Grimm sort, with her own unique touch. Her characters stick; they have many layers; they have a quality to them that is almost unreal. Picking up one of her books is like picking up a fragment of a dream, a dark, hypnotic dream you both want and don’t want to rouse from. Become entrenched in her work as I have and see if you don’t come out of her stories untouched, for better or for worse. Carter died tragically before any of us could say we had enough; and even since her death, she remains queen of the twisted fairy tale.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Sana S. I want to read this now! If her books can even hold a candle to your writing, I'm in!


Lord Sana wrote: "I want to read this now! If her books can even hold a candle to your writing, I'm in!"

Her writing is brilliant; wait till you get a taste of it! Next time I see you, I'm bringing The Magic Toyshop. I've always wanted to know someone else's opinion of it.


message 3: by Nemo (new) - added it

Nemo Oh my gosh, you had me sold at "candy canes in a pool of blood". I actually shivered at that. AWESOME review - I look forward to the book.


Lord Nemo wrote: "Oh my gosh, you had me sold at "candy canes in a pool of blood". I actually shivered at that. AWESOME review - I look forward to the book."

Thanks, Nemo! Do report back when you've read the book and let me know what you think. I've never known anyone who appreciates this book as much as it deserves.


Sarah Dunsbee It is a brilliant book, magical and weird, not normally my cup of tea but I thought it superb....your review could not be bettered, are you a professional author for goodness sake? brilliant too...


Lord Sarah wrote: "It is a brilliant book, magical and weird, not normally my cup of tea but I thought it superb....your review could not be bettered, are you a professional author for goodness sake? brilliant too..."

Sarah, I'm delighted to hear how much you've enjoyed it! It seems my review has got more people to read the book than I expected, and I couldn't be more delighted. Thank you for your comment.

Happy reading! :)


Calum I came across this review shortly after finishing the book. I must agree, Carter can certainly write like no other.


Lord Thank you for your comment, Calum! I agree - even a year and a hundred books later. I always come back for more Carter.


nira This is the most beautiful review I have ever read. I now need this book in my hand. Write a book! :)


message 10: by Lord (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lord nira wrote: "This is the most beautiful review I have ever read. I now need this book in my hand. Write a book! :)"

Bless you, Nira, and thanks! You've inspired me to pick up the pen again. :-)


message 11: by nira (new) - rated it 5 stars

nira Lord wrote: "nira wrote: "This is the most beautiful review I have ever read. I now need this book in my hand. Write a book! :)"

Bless you, Nira, and thanks! You've inspired me to pick up the pen again. :-)"


YAY! Good for you. Anything you want to write, i would love to read. Keep on writing! :D


Michael I personally didn't enjoy The Magic Toyshop, however, this review was so beautifully put I feel obliged to give it another chance. Great review, I envy your writing ability.


Michael I personally didn't enjoy The Magic Toyshop, however, this review was so beautifully put I feel obliged to give it another chance. Great review, I envy your writing ability.


message 14: by Lord (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lord Michael wrote: "I personally didn't enjoy The Magic Toyshop, however, this review was so beautifully put I feel obliged to give it another chance. Great review, I envy your writing ability."

Thank you, Michael! I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the next read.


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