Having not read Carter since my University days I knew I would enjoy The Magic Toyshop, but I did not think I would find it easy to read. Heroes and Villains was on my University course and although I read it in a day (the seminar was the next day) I did struggle to get through the text.
The Magic Toyshop tracks the transition of Melanie, with her siblings, from rural innocence to city life. After their parents die they are sent to live with their Uncle Philip at his toyshop. Philip lives with his mute wife Margaret, and her brothers Finn and Frances. Philip is controlling, intolerant and obsessed with his creations – not only in the toyshop, but in his puppet theatre. Melanie spends the novel adjusting to her new life, her new family and navigating the caustic Philip.
‘She embarked on a tranced voyage, exploring the whole of herself, clambering her own mountain ranges, penetrating the moist richness of her secret valleys, a physiological Cortez, da Gama or Mungo Park.’
Carter unabashedly tackles subjects in literature in need of addressing. As Yasmin said in her review of the book, ‘Carter’s work is her fearlessness to approach very taboo subjects. The Magic Toyshop alone touches on teenage sexual awakening, rape and incest in a way that, despite being draped in surrealism, is incredibly real and direct.’ We are introduced to Melanie as she explores her body. It has suddenly stopped being something childish and is instead a vessel for pleasure and female sexuality. A few pages later Melanie dresses in her mothers wedding gown and dances in the moon light in expression of her new found desire. Melanie’s parents die the day after, she perceives their deaths as punishment for this reckless abandon. Perhaps an expression of how women are told to restrain their sexuality, as it is dangerous and evil. Melanie becomes eve, shunted from her life in the idyllic countryside to the stark reality of London poverty.
Uncle Philip is the embodiment of social hegemony, representing the patriarchy and its attitude to women. I found Uncle Philip demonstrative of the patriarchy’s damaging effect on both women and men. His wife Margaret becomes mute from the moment they are married, reduced to an object which cleans, cooks and obeys. The longer the marriages progresses the thinner and frailer she becomes, wasting under Philips large (literally and figuratively) presence. Philips spreads his control over to her brothers Frances and Finn. Each are beaten down by his perception of masculinity and it’s restrictions. Finn and Frances do not live up to his high expectations, and are punished physically and mentally for this. Finn especially, who is assistant to the ever punishing Philip.
The ending – which I will try not to spoil – suggests regeneration. However, Melanie is completely removed from what she has known, both before and during life at the Toyshop.
The Magic Toyshop was not an ‘unputdownable’ book, yet, I am still pondering it now. You may not storm through it, but you will be thinking about it endlessly afterwards. An indication that this book informs as much as it entertains.
Have you read The Magic Toyshop? How did you find it?