Originally published: September 2018
Author: Robert Dinsdale
Published by: Penguin Random House
Genre: Magical Realism
Length: 468 pages
Reading dates: 24-27 January 2019
The year is 1906. Cathy Wray is pregnant and unmarried at 16. On being threatened by her parents with having to give up her unborn child, she spots a job advert for a toy shop in London, and decides to try her luck. But The Emporium is no ordinary toy shop and as Cathy makes the shop her home, she soon discovers all the magical toys that are sold there – patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside and toy soldiers that can fight battles on their own.
The owners of the shop are Papa Jack, a bear like man who is originally from Russia and his two teenage sons, Kaspar and Emil. All have the ability to make magical toys. The shop is truly a magical place and is popular with the people of London but it is only open from the night of the first frost of winter until the discovery of the first snowdrop.
Cathy is welcomed into their home and gives birth to her daughter, Martha there. Set against the backdrop of World War 1, this is both a magical and heart-breaking story.
This is a book club read but I had been eager to read it since seeing it around on social media a lot last year – it is one of those times that the cover was enough to convince me I wanted to read it! I found the book a little slow in places – and to honest I couldn’t tell where it was going. For quite a long period (over a third of the book) we are just hearing about the years passing in the toy shop, the relationship between brothers Kaspar and Emil and how Cathy and her daughter fit into their lives. Then on the outbreak of WW1, Kaspar leaves to fight in the war, believing it will all be over by Christmas and then things take a distinctly darker turn.
At its heart, the novel is a study of war. There are lots of mentions of the toy soldiers and the long war that Kaspar and Emil start as children and continue into adulthood but when the reality of war and what it is really like to be a soldier become real, the thought of soldiers as play things just doesn’t seem right.
The historical side was great though. I haven’t read many books set during World War 1 and I found it shocking how young men were almost eager to go and fight, having romantic notions about what would happen. It also looked at the physical and mental damage that the war caused. As the book covered the period of 1906-1953 it was interesting to see the changes London underwent.
I did enjoy this, but I felt it could have done with it being a bit shorter. I would recommend it though – it was really well written and was a good idea, and is great for a wintery read. Have you read The Toymakers? What did you think?
About the author:
Robert Dinsdale was born in North Yorkshire and currently lives in Leigh-On-Sea. He is the author of three previous critically acclaimed novels: THE HARROWING, LITTLE EXILES and GINGERBREAD. THE TOYMAKERS is his first venture into magic.