The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
Do you remember when you believed in magic?
The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open!
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…
Hardback edition out 8th February 2018 by Del Ray part of Penguin Random House UK Ebury Publishing.
Wow, this is truly such a rich, evocative book it is almost impossible to sum it up in to a review that can do it justice; it will be a book that stays with me for a long time and one I can see myself returning to read again and again, which I rarely ever do.
It is a Toy Story for grown ups, encapsulating all the magic emotion and wonder of childhood when toys were more than just toys; dolls, teddy bears, soldiers, were our friends, sometimes the only things that could comfort us and that we would confide in. There are reminders throughout the book that even in isolating loneliness we are never completely alone if we choose to look for the magic. To be able to evoke that depth of enchantment and charm within the pages of this book, yet simultaneously the dark despair and destruction that war brings is quite a talent that Dinsdale absolutely nails.
You are witnessing the events over many years as an observer, invited to see the quite unbelievable sights of the emporium and the way the characters evolve. It all begins with a young girl, Cathy, in an impossible situation she makes a life changing choice and ends up in London, taken in by the Emporium on the opening night of the season. The owner is the mysterious Papa Jack, and his sons Emil and Kaspar. The clockwork dog Sirius was such an endearing character to me, as was the courageous Kapitan. The world of the Emporium is mysterious with a secluded, secretive air not only from the outside world but also inside it’s own realm, where there are many hiding places, secrets, and closed doors. Jealousy, misunderstanding, and bitterness breeds in the face of much sacrifice, and when unexpected events change everything it becomes a true battle to find a peace within the emporium walls or risk losing everything.
There is so much I want to say about the ending that I can’t without using spoilers, but it is monumental and profoundly astute. I absolutely loved every page of it.
I found the fragile sanctuary of the Toy Emporium and the battles of the main characters an allegory of how in life we grow old and lose our innocence and magic of childhood; we suffer tragedies, loss, illness, some become consumed by materialism, pride, greed, or control; but if we choose to do what’s right, to be benevolent, to hold on to what is precious and be brave enough to protect innocence, love and freedom then a little bit of magic can always survive and reincarnate.
I’m ending this review with a few of my favourite quotes from the book (no spoilers I promise):
“Running was easy, she decided; but every runaway had to arrive, and arriving seemed the most difficult thing of all.”
“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. Only a child could understand how one day might last an eternity , while another pass in the flicker of an eye.”
“When you are young, what you want out of toys is to feel grown-up. You play with toys and cast yourself an adult, and imagine life the way it’s going to be. Yet, when you are grown, that changes; now, what you want out of toys is to feel young again. You want to be back there, in a place that did not harm nor hurt you, in a pocket of time built out of memory and love. You want things in miniature, where they can be better understood: battles, and houses, picnic baskets and sailing boats too. Boyhood and adulthood- any toymaker worth his craft has to find a place to sit, somewhere between the two. It’s only in those borderlands that the very best toys are made.”
Thank you so much to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me this opportunity to read and review this book in my own words.