Jeremy de Quidt’s The Toymaker is a fabulously strange book which extends the conversation regarding puppets that Steve Cockayne and, on a more metaphysical level, Philip Pullman started and moving towards the Frankenstein myth. It was shortlisted for the Brandford Boase award (which went to B.R. Collins for the Traitor Game).
Dr Leiter, the Toymaker, wonders how one can make a Doll which lives. Really lives with a heart…
Mathias pulls a part of piece of paper from the mouth of a dying conjurer, still believing him to be his grandfather, which begins his flight. Katta, a serving girl, helps him to escape and takes him to the Burners after he is attacked. Katta’s self reliance and perceptions of the world are challenged and she is brought back down to earth.
The Burner’s camp reminded me of the camp in Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen or the barge in Pullman’s Northern Lights. The camp seems to challenge narrow ways of seeing the world, a sort of cross-hatched place where the centre meets the edge safely and osmotically. Her ignorance is clearly exposed.
Setting off with Koenig, the trio go to Felissehaven to chase the clues left to the meaning of the paper. Digging in cemetaries and mausoleums, the trio discover a secret far more insidious than they dared imagine. de Quidt is fantastic at keeping the twist quiet until the end but even then he carries on and Leiter’s desires come to fruition when Katta is transformed into a doll and the machinations of the world are revealed, if obliquely. (To some extent it reminds me of John Crowey’s superb novel Engine Summer and its reveal).
de Quidt has a casual, but precise, approach to writing which appeals at many level. He doesn’t remove himself from the horror and the messy implications of making a monster. In a sense de Quidt answers the queston that we really have when reading Frankenstein “how does the monster really feel when it is aware of its state?”. Shelley reflects on what he reads but de Quidt takes you inside their experience. He does have some inventive ways of hurting Mathias but he is capable enough as a writer to not revel in them. The world is not as cotton wool as it might be presented at times. Both children are treated a equals
Slightly odd and very quiet, The Toymaker is a dark fantasy which starts as one thing and reveals itself as quite another. The quiet horror of MR James comes to mind when thinking about this book. I bought this book on a whim whilst rummaging through the children’s section in Topping Books Ely shop because it looked quite interesting and I’m thoroughly glad that I did.