The memorable opening chapter of The Magic Toyshop introduces Melanie. a fifteen-year-old girl, acutely aware of her developing body and personhood. Carter defines with precision the physical, emotional and mental turmoil of a teenage girl on the brink of womanhood. Melanie’s vague thoughts of marriage take her into her parent’s bedroom in search of her mother’s wedding dress.
The wedding dress is destroyed, ripped to shreds as Melanie climbs the apple tree up to her bedroom window. When tragedy strikes Melanie is haunted by guilt. Melanie and her two siblings leave the comfort of their grand country house and travel by train to London into the care of their Uncle Philip.
To Melanie’s surprise, they are met on the platform by two young Irish men, Francie and Finn. They take a taxi journey to South London, past melancholy Victorian houses to a parade of shops. In between a boarded-up jeweller’s and a grocer’s shop is a dimly-lit cavern of a shop. In the window of the cavern, Melanie detects the nebulous outlines of stiff-limbed puppets dangling from their strings, and the flaring nostrils of a rocking horse. Above the door of the shop is a sign that reads 'Toys: Philip Flower Novelties' - and once Melanie steps through that door, her life changes forever.
The house seems to exercise control over the family even when Uncle Philip is absent, through some creepy dysfunctional power. Aunt Margaret has no voice to speak her mind; she is psychologically and physically controlled by Uncle Philip.
The Magic Toy Shop is an uncanny fairy tale for grown-ups, a voyage of discovery to womanhood, love in its many forms and the darker side of human nature. There is an unearthing of past events and emotions that ultimately leads to mutual acceptance and understanding and a realisation of the power of family.
About the reviewer
Sally Shaw is a full-time MA Creative Writing Student at the University of Leicester. She writes poetry, and is starting to write short stories. She was a nurse for 33 years.