The Toymakers

Written by Robert Dinsdale
Review by Douglas Kemp

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

England in the winter of 1906. Young Cathy Wray has found herself pregnant, much to the shame of her family. She escapes from both their constant disapproval and her imminent incarceration in a maternity home, where her baby will be given up for immediate adoption – leaving her seaside resort home of Leigh-on-Sea, for London. She is attracted by a strange newspaper advertisement seeking staff to work in toyshop in the approach to Christmas. The shop is located off Regent Street, and is a magical childhood kingdom, filled with wonderful toys that have a life of their own. She gets a position in Papa Jack’s Emporium, whilst concealing her maternal condition. She is an attractive and engaging young woman, and establishes a rapport with the two sons of the mysterious owner of the Emporium – Kaspar and Emil Godman. Their father, Jekabs, fled Latvia while the boys were young to establish his magical business that is only open to the public when the winter frosts arrive in London before Christmas.

Despite the subject matter, the novel has a profound depth. It touches upon the nature of family, memory, rivalry and the devastating impact of war and the turbulence upon life as we follow the lives of three main protagonists. Although the novel is set in early-to-mid years of the 20th century, there is not always a particularly strong historical association with the times, and the characters could just as easily be living in contemporary London. Nonetheless, this is a most delightful novel, one that I became wholly absorbed in and was reluctant to relinquish at its close.