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Sensing the life in everything : Magic for adults which will make, and break, your heart. Repeatedly.

Who did not, as a small child, believe their toys were alive, or, at least, HOPE they came alive when your back was turned…….and so, yes, reading the synopsis of this book, my heart quickened a little in anticipation of recovering that state of ‘magic, real magic IS the world’, that was some of the place of that child, not ‘pretending’ a toy was alive, but, even if only momentarily, believing.

The fact that this book was being compared to The Night Circus (which I adored, and catapulted me back into that place) was also appealing. The fact that it was compared also to The Miniaturist gave me pause (lacked it, in my opinion). I needn’t have worried. The Night Circus pleasurable shivers of delight up the back of the neck started very early with The Toymakers.

Primarily taking place in 1917 and making a journey TO that time and place from some 11 years earlier, the Toymakers is set in what any toyshop should really be – a magical place where the maker-of-those-toys really is a true mage and can make the toys live.

Though the period of the First War will occupy a bulk of the book, it will end in the 1950s.

The most terrible things can happen to a man, but he’ll never lose himself if he remembers he was once a child

And that ‘primarily set in the period of the First War’ gives, I must warn, a lot of heartbreak to readers. A good author will have us invested in many of their characters – and Dinsdale, on this showing, is a very good author indeed.

Mightn’t it be…that until you’ve seen the dark, you don’t really know the light

Do take delight, as much as you can, in the playfulness and yes, that childhood remembered magic in the early part of the book, because payback time of grief will come. Without this reader feeling in any way manipulated, or in any way that the author was mechanically moving any of his sometimes surprising cast of characters around, my heart was being swung between imaginative delight and ‘I can’t take the sorrow of this’ moments.

Readers’ Appropriate Behaviour In A Public Place warning : Do not read in a public place.. If you must, ensure you have a ready supply of tissues.  Involuntary cries of ‘oh no, no, no’ whimpers of grief and the like can alarm innocent bystanders.

Brief synopsis and subject matter, avoiding spoilers :

Cathy, a young girl, pregnant, single, disgraced, runs away from home in Leigh-on-Sea to London, after seeing a curious, alluring advertisement in a local paper

Help Wanted…Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at Heart? So are we. The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. Sales and stocktaking, no experience required. Bed and board included. Apply in person….

Cathy becomes winter help in a most extraordinary toy shop, Papa Jack’s Emporium. Papa Jack, originally a man with a different name, and we suspect, a tragic story, set up his extraordinary toyshop, after arriving in this country from Eastern Europe, and Tsarist Russia, the father of two young boys he had not seen for many years.

Papa Jack, originally a carpenter, crafts exquisite toys, out of quality material when he can, but he can also create something extraordinary out of found materials such as pine cones, twigs and grasses. Really extraordinary.

By the time young Cathy reaches the Emporium, it is a famous and established place, financially successful, fabulously strange. Those two young boys, Kaspar and Emil are now also extraordinary toymakers, a little older than Cathy. Fast, loving, supportive brothers; fierce, struggling sibling rivals, both as inheritors of Papa Jack’s love, Papa Jack’s dream for the stability and future of the Emporium, and … well, much more.

A secret has been revealed, and finally I understand the true meaning of toys….When you are young, what you want from toys is to feel grown-up. You play with toys and cast yourself as an adult, and imagine life the way it’s going to be. Yet, when you are grown, that changes: now, what you want out of toys is to feel young again. You want to be back there, in a place that did not harm nor hurt you, in a pocket of time built out of memory and love

There are toys here, of course; there is magic, too. What is this book? It is a story of war, it is a story of the tangled web of relationships – parents and children, brothers and sisters, men and women. Not to mention toys themselves. What relationships might they have? What relationships could they have? Dinsdale makes us think about Creation itself, question who we are. He creates puzzles of time and space for us …..we just need to let our imaginations surrender to what once they were

I can’t praise this highly enough. I’m intrigued to discover Dinsdale has written earlier books, and  I shall nervously explore them…….nervously because this book is so extraordinary that I would be surprised to have missed a writer so fine, for so long

The challenge is the one a reader has with a book which makes its own world so very much realer than the world we know. What on earth can I read next, that will not disappoint and seem pale and insubstantial? Poor author who has to follow Dinsdale. Not fair!

I received this from NetGalley as a (very well done) digital ARC

Lucky, lucky readers about to start their journey with this one

The Toymakers UK
The Toymakers USA