Best described as a sort of Narnia for adults, The Toymakers is the story of the owners of Papa Jack’s Emporium, a magical toy store in central London that opens each year with the first frost and closes when the first snowdrop flowers.
I have always loved books about magic and quirky toy stores, so I jumped at the chance to read this one.
Papa Jack’s adult sons, Kaspar and Emil Godman, have grown up making toys in the Emporium. They are hyper competitive – Kaspar with his new and slightly magical creations and Emil with his reliably amazing, but frustratingly non-magical, toy soldiers.
Cathy Wray, a 15-year-old pregnant runaway, seeks sanctuary and work at the Emporium in the winter of 1906 and soon becomes the new focus of the sons’ duelling.
About halfway through the narrative takes an unexpected turn when World War I intervenes. The Emporium, and its inhabitants, will never be the same again.
Dinsdale’s interwoven philosophies on the role of toys and childhood in mediating violent and traumatic situations were refreshing and enlightening. I loved his distinction between the ‘everyday’ magic of enjoying a peaceful and satisfying life, and the actual magic woven into Papa Jack’s and Kaspar’s creations.
I highlighted more than a dozen ‘favourite quotes’ in The Toymakers, but this one would have to be my favourite passage:
There are a hundred different clocks in the Emporium. Some keep time with the comings and goings of London seasons. Others tick out of sync, counting down the hours of that faraway coastline the Godman brothers once called home. Still more keep erratic and uncontrollable times: one counts each third second backwards, the better to extend the time between chores; another elongates the evening, all the better to keep bedtime at bay. These are the times that children keep, and which adults are forbidden from remembering.
The Toymakers is a perfectly imperfect novel that is strangely put together in places but the gems in it are so amazing that I didn’t regret reading it at all. I did find it hard to take off my editing cap in some places – it’s long, and it felt long. But then, I felt that way about the latter Harry Potter books and they don’t seem to have suffered any for it!
The story line for the toy soldiers in the second half was a little perplexing but – in the same way I think we all forgave the writers of Buffy for Season 4 – it didn’t change my opinion of the book overall.