Monthly Archive for April, 2015

That’s Magic

Choice of the month for the Durham group was another mind-bending read, ‘The Magic Toyshop’, by Angela Carter – A tale of tragic loss of innocence and brutalised youth for a young girl battling the ravages of poverty and abuse. She loses her comfortable, middle class world following the death of her parents in a plane crash. Does that sound somewhat jaded ?! That wasn’t the atmosphere of the group discussion- a lively, far-ranging, fascinating consideration of this challenging adult fairy tale.

Many considered this a pioneering feminist novel portraying the position of women in society, seeing Carter as asserting an original and powerful development of a literary form in her story telling. We struggled to define which genre this was. From the outset the reader witnesses a young woman’s struggles with defining her identity, exploring her budding sexuality, searching for symbols of the female adult world. She rummages through her mothers trunk to find a wedding dress. Wearing it is an exciting adventure that turns chillingly frightening, dangerous and bloody.

girl 3Some admired the artistry of the writer. Others found the fairy tale format distinctly boring and the tale formulaic, too predictable. There was an air of irritation with the same old fairy story plot. As the discussion widened we discovered more depth in the prose. We considered the allegory and themes as we understood them today and as they would have been at the time of writing. The strangely contorted reality of the plot highlighted the disturbing ugliness and filth of the world . The protagonist describes everything through heightened senses. Smells, touch, taste assault the reader. As one group member noted, that embarrassing awareness of physical senses of teenage years is brilliantly used in the telling of the story. One member had discovered this book in the teenage literature section of the library. We considered whether this could be read as ‘teenage’ literature. The consensus was ultimately it could. The danger for young women of being attracted to dark and sinister characters was as true today as in the past. We wondered whether this novel was a brave social commentary, Dickensian almost, at a time when physical and sexual abuse in families was hidden, denied. One reader queried the significance of the ‘severed hand in the drawer’. A gothic device? A description of madness, the protagonists mind finally losing its grip on reality in response to oppressive control of her mind? A brilliant literary device distilling the essence of the book, the crossing of the world of human beings with the world of the puppeteer and doll maker, like Pinocchio coming to life?

Like all good fairy stories, we were left uncertain as to the real meaning of the story, not quite satisfied, many more questions than answers. For those who want more, Maxine recommended ‘The Bloody Chamber’.

Next month Rachel has arranged a special treat for us. Helen Cadbury, author of our next book read, ‘To Catch a Rabbit’ will be joining us on 11 May to discuss her detective story as we turn our interest to a different genre. Time to solve some real life crimes, a different kind of mind game, rooted in reassuring fact …