Monday, May 21, 2018

The Toy Makers At The Emporium

I was kinda hoping that 'The Toy Makers' (2018) by Robert Dinsdale would be less Dickensian and more fantasy. Nope. The book moves along in a dignified manner, including the prose and such. It was sort of boring. I didn't enjoy it very much. I didn't mind the ending though. The story also touched on the treatment of immigrants, and the right to fight in the war one believes in. (Reviews here, here and here.)

Papa Jack's Toy Emporium is the one shiny happy place in Mayfair, London where children's dreams come true. Papa Jack's sons Kaspar and Emil Godman work with him at the Emporium. They're excellent toy-makers. It's the golden era of toys, stories and all that you fantasize could come true in a three-dimensional world crafted by the toy-makers.

The protagonist is unmarried mother 16-year-old Catherine 'Cathy' Wray who left her home and takes on a job at Papa Jack's Toy Emporium in 1907. The Emporium is run by the Godmans, who are exiles from Russia. Papa Jack also welcomed her into his home Wendy House. She birthed her child, Martha right there. The story follows her and the two brothers Kaspar and Emil all the way through to the 1920s. Cathy marries Kaspar and becomes Catherine Godman. Emil marries Nina. Kaspar didn't want to sell toy soldiers anymore when World War I loomed. Christmas and toys take on a different meaning in this world.

The story moves slowly to 1940. Martha grows up. Along with the war, Emporium's business declines, a haunted Kaspar left his marriage, his family and his home. In 1953, Catherine Godman and the Emporium faces foreclosure, and it finally closes. Catherine leaves to begin a new life with her daughter and her grandchildren. The ending is as it should be. Bittersweet.

Come north with me now, past the green splendours of Regent's Park, through the elegant porticos of St John's Wood and north, to a little house off the Finchley Road. Take your shoes off at the door, creep past the kitchen where Martha Godman's children are putting the finishing touches to toys of their very own designs while their patchwork dog washes curiously on, and come up the crooked stairs. Here, in a chamber at the very top, sits an ill-hewn toybox, rescued from the Emporium on that last November night. Inside it are worlds too many to be imagined, and two old lovers making new ones every day.

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