Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (1967)

I love Angela Carter, and I loved this book. I loved the insane, fairy tale logic to everything. I loved the fact that the book felt like magical realism, despite the fact that absolutely nothing that happened was impossible, or magic. I loved the fact that every single character was a symbolic, stylised charicature of whatever it was they represented in the context of the narrative. I loved the imagery, the playful use of words, the use of literary allusions both subtle and obvious. I loved pretty much everything about this book.

But the problem was that the style of the book was virtually unsustainable. The insane logic, the literary allusions, the characatured to the point of ridiculousness characters, the highly symbolic nature of everything, the over-stylisation - these are all really fun things to read. For twenty or thirty pages. After that they become somewhat tiring - like it's an effort not to begin to think, "but hold on a minute, Uncle Philip can't possibly be that much of a monster. Why is he acting like this? What is his motivation?" In a short story the author doesn't necessarily have time to make every character fully rounded and human - it is expected that they will simplify, and the reader is usually not given enough time to consider whether or not each indivdual character is completely plausible or not. But in a novel, this refusal to complicate her characters with real motivations or logic becomes troubling. You have the time to flesh these characters out - so why aren't you?

None of this is to say that I think that The Magic Toyshop is in any way a bad book - it is a really good book, with a few flaws. It's just that I would rather read a Carter short story than a Carter novel. Not to say that I will never read another Carter novel, but, well, The Tiger's Bride from Carter's short story collection The Bloody Chamber is my favourite short story of all time. The Magic Toyshop is just a really good book.

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