the anti V brigade

The Magic Toyshop by antivbrigade
October 11, 2006, 9:16 am
Filed under: BOOKS

To inject a little femininity into this very male, very testosterone-fuelled site, I couldn’t resist choosing Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop for my first book review for the AVB. I chanced upon it in the school library and this first book I read from her has been my favourite so far. The Magic Toyshop was written in 1967 and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1968. It was turned into a film in 1988, directed by David Wheatley.

Angela Carter’s style of writing is hard to place. Ranging from gothic to surreal, the genre that best suits this particular masterpiece would be that of romanticism. To the literarily-uninitiated, romanticism has nothing to do with the tacky world of Mills and Boon romance novels, an era that is thankfully over. Romanticism was instead an intellectual movement that encompassed imagination, nature, symbolism, medievalism and most importantly, self. Combine that with Carter’s ideas on feminism and magical realism and you get an irresistibly trippy book with ominous underlying messages.

Carter uses lyricism and an odd but effective style of structurally messy characterization to present the characters and the story. Melanie, a fifteen year old girl used to living a comfortable life with her family, is sent along with her siblings to live with her tyrannical toymaker uncle Philip when her parents are killed. The characters are paradoxical, with naïve Melanie being forced into womanhood, her uncle Philip who despises children and yet makes toys and talks to them as if they were real, her aunt Margaret who has been unable to speak since her wedding day but has so many things to say and can only do so by writing them down on a chalkboard, Margaret’s brother Finn who is presented as dirty and uncouth and yet Melanie is drawn to him. The setting of the toyshop and how Philip creates toys and carries out puppet shows for his own satisfaction provides a slightly Gothic feel to the novel, as a backdrop to Melanie discovering herself and her sexuality.

Angela Carter

Melanie questions the role of women in society and throughout the novel, we see how men use her, with Philip making her a puppet, both to perform for his show and to physically manifest his fantasies of ruining Finn, and with Finn kissing her against her will. One of the most significant and symbolic parts of the novel is when Melanie performs in Philip’s play, the Rape of Leda and Finn destroys Philip’s beloved puppet swan. Then each character’s motive becomes clear as the disastrous end of the novel is reached when the toyshop is destroyed, symbolizing the destruction of patriarchal culture. Weeee!

Freudianism is inevitably played upon in this novel. The disturbing ideas presented ultimately heighten the interest of the reader and leaves one feeling slightly uneasy yet more appreciative of self-discovery and sexuality. Not for people who get bored with descriptive styles of writing. At the risk of sounding like a Feminazi, the novel is still a must-read for those interested in checking out the subtle incorporation of post-feminism and for those who need a little escape from the real world into a dreamscape of mythology. People up for interpretation of the symbolism used in the novel will also appreciate it.

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5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

ah neh says: knn write so long. just say good or no good la.

Comment by antivbrigade

impressed that you guys chose a book that revolved around the ideals of feminism. kudos.

Comment by aarthi

and then i realise its a woman who wrote it. kudos to her.

Comment by aarthi

Ah, I love the Romantic era. And I’d love to read this as well, despite the sad fact that I now know how it ends. *nods*

Comment by Sash

Just my two cents’ worth

Interestingly, I feel that in most of her novels, she thrusts her female protagonist in more adult situations than their age calls for, perhaps in a reflection of the changing role of the female in today’s world and the take charge attitude they have to display to get ahead- in the way that hardly anyone takes a feminine woman that seriously. ( I know i’m inviting some RAAAARRRR comments here :s)

Take a look at ” Bloody Chamber” by her where she reworks the role of the female in traditional fairy tale and puts a rather sexual spin on the roles they are expected to play. I find it the most graphic and hence, consequently one of her most disconcerting novels so take a hefty dose of non squeamishness before reading it.

Having said that, kudos to your post! I love your writing style 🙂

Comment by slam2drop

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