The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

Review: The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

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 bookCarter’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?


13 thoughts on “Review: The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

  1. I studied The Magic Toyshop at university last year and this post has made me want to reread it! Like you said in your last paragraph, it’s one of those books that you think about long after you’ve finished it. I think this was the first Angela Carter book I’d read, and it definitely made me want to explore more of her work.


    1. I’m glad you got the urge to reread! I think this novel has made me want to read more of Carter, it is definitely more accessible that Heroes and Villains (which is a fantastic book I recommend reading).


  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it (and thanks for the link to my review!). I completely agree, Carter’s work ‘informs as much as it entertains’ and that’s what I love about her writing. I also found the idea of patriarchy being hurtful to men – Finn and Frances – to be really interesting, it’s not something I have looked at in Carter’s work and now that I think about it, it seems to be quite a large theme in her writing.


  3. A very interesting review, Alice. I haven’t read The Magic Toyshop, but I have a copy at home as I’d like to read more by Angela Carter. Funnily enough, it’s not long since I read Nights at the Circus (I’ve got a backlog of reviews, so I’ll be posting it in August), but it strikes me as being somewhat different to Toyshop; Circus seems less sexually explicit, more accessible perhaps?


    1. I’ve not read Nights at the Circus, although I would say The Magic Circus is more suggestive than explicit. I look forward to reading your review on Nights at the Circus, it may encourage some further Carter reading earlier than I have currently planned 🙂


  4. I’ve read it, but oh dear, this is the second time in the past week that I’ve made this confession: I just do not care for Angela Carter. I want to! I feel like I should love her, as I love creepy stories and I love fairy tales, and I especially love creepy fairy tales. But for all my reading of her work, I have always ALWAYS found it to be a chore to read. :(:(:(


    1. Ha, I think that is okay. There are just some writers it is hard to get into and I think Carter is like Marmite, you either like enjoy her books or you don’t.


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