The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale – REVIEW
It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.
For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical…
“Running was easy, she decided; but every runaway had to arrive, and arriving seemed the most difficult thing of all.”
I actually read this last month but have had difficulty putting the sheer wonder of this book into words. I first saw the book mentioned on Twitter when proofs were being sent out to bloggers and I fell in love with the cover design and description so immediately preordered a signed edition from Goldsboro. I’m so glad I did as it was exquisite. The prologue written in the second person harks back to an age of childhood innocence, magic and wonder. There’s an invitational sense of intimacy that draws the reader in without them noticing. From opening the book until closing it, the lyrical prose weaves a spell of nostalgia and wonder that is undercut by the horror of war and the creeping encroachment of the outside world.
“A toy cannot save a life, but it can save a soul.”
The story starts in a manner similar to a Dickensian story with a fifteen-year-old pregnant runaway called Cathy finding Papa Jack’s Emporium and never leaving. From the ordinary magic of Cathy to the rivalry of brothers Kaspar and Emil, to the haunted memories of Papa Jack, these beautifully complex characters will linger in your mind long after you finish reading. The story spans almost fifty years in the lives of these characters, across two world wars and their aftermath. The horrors suffered by Papa Jack and Kaspar slice into the pure magic of the toy shop, fracturing relationships and threatening the impossibility of a happy ending for any of the characters. The sibling rivalry of Kaspar and Emil shapes almost the whole events of the story and one brother makes a truly awful decision that has resounding consequences for all of them.
“Stories were like entire lives lived in a few dozen pages. How more swiftly might a mind grow if it coul read, if it devoured one story after another.”
However, it’s the second half of the novel that encapsulates the emotional lives of these characters with such skill. It’s heartbreaking at times and the ending is certainly bitter-sweet but it’s a breathtakingly beautiful story that imprints itself on the reader’s heart. The author reminds us that, alongside the extraordinary feats of magic performed in the toy shop, is the ordinary magic of family. To forget this most important of magic is to invite devastating repercussions. I can imagine rereading this book every Christmas and discovering new depths each time. If you enjoyed The Night Circus then you need to read The Toymakers.
|About the Author
Robert Dinsdale was born in North Yorkshire and currently lives in Leigh-On-Sea. He is the author of three previous critically acclaimed novels: THE HARROWING, LITTLE EXILES and GINGERBREAD.
THE TOYMAKERS is his first venture into magic.