Frantic. Craving. I pace through the bookstore, scanning the rows of titles looking for something, something please, that will be right. Why doesn't anybody ever write anything good? I want a girl book, a book for girls, a book about a girl. I am a girl, I want a book about me.
But not a book about me grown up and working in a law firm, not a book about me old and planting a garden and thinking wise thoughts about divorce, not a book about me baking bread in the historic midwest, not a book about me coming of age and wanting to be a writer and getting a job in a publishing house and making cynical observations. No. I want a book about a girl who is like me except so much more so, a girl whose melodrama can only fit within the strained corset stays of the gothic novel, and even then spills over voluptuously, a girl to whom things happen, a girl who actually manages to make it to Narnia, or someplace similar. I want a fairytale that hasn’t lost all of it’s personal details through centuries of brewing.
I want every book to be The Magic Toyshop. At least today, right now, I want every author to be Angela Carter. Maybe tomorrow I will change my mind but at the moment I just wish I hadn’t already read all the books.
The way this book is written it feels like magic realism, something fantastical, but everything that happens is entirely possible, if improbable. There are three orphaned children, two of which are closed off and inaccessible to the third, because they are so involved in their own worlds. Victoria, the baby, is too young to understand what goes on around her, and Jonathan, the boy, lives in a sort of autistic fantasy world. The third child, Melanie, is a fifteen year old girl.
Melanie, despite her name, is the perfect gothic heroine. A skinny waif, an orphan - an orphan! - romantic and young and wide-eyed, yet practical and tough in her way. Like Jane Eyre if Jane Eyre were always fifteen and beautiful in a world without high schools.
There is a despotic toymaker uncle, who loves his marionettes but is cruel and heartless towards people, and there is a wife for the uncle, a skinny bird of an Irishwoman who was stricken dumb on her wedding day. Most likely she only married the horrible man in order to be able to provide a home for her two brothers, Francis and Finn, after they themselves were orphaned.
Francis plays the violin sometimes, when the uncle is away, and his sister Margaret accompanies him on a flute, and Finn, the youngest, dances, because he is good with his feet as well as with a paintbrush. These moments of music and familial warmth are the only times when the shadow of the uncle’s tyranny lift from the house.
Isn’t it ridiculous…despite the horror and suffering and sadness these characters go through, in this outlandish house in 1950’s London, I want to be there with them. I want to be Melanie with sore legs in the shop selling toys that can only make other people happy. I want to spy through the hole in her wall to see the dancing and the violin playing in Francis and Finn’s room next door.
And Finn, Finn with his bad teeth and his unwashed smell and his turpentine hands, I would give him my heart to eat raw if he were a hungry tiger, but I don’t want him to be a tiger because then he would no longer be Finn and Finn is what I love. Certainly he is real. I am quite sure he is real and will climb into my window tonight.