Happy 1st March and World Book Day! Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve just finished reading. I have to say, I absolutely loved it. I cannot emphasise that enough. It was just so magical, so gripping, so enchanting. It’s become one of my favourite books ever. Therefore, I absolutely had to share this with you. A bonus: the cover is absolutely beautiful too.
What’s it all about?
Set in the early 1900s in London, this book is told mainly through the eyes of 15 year old Cathy Wray. It centres around a magical Emporium, owned by Papa Jack, which opens at the first frost and closes on the appearance of snowdrops. The toys are magical and awe inspiring. It’s a place where children’s dreams are fulfilled.
‘Come, go in after him. You would not be the first. Children are already tugging on their parents’ hands; a pair of young lovers hurry to make secrets of their gifts to one another; an old man unwinds his scarf as he hobbled in, if only to feel like a boy again.’
However, Cathy has a problem. She’s 15, pregnant and her parents are none too pleased. They arrange for her baby to be given away once it’s born. Until then, Cathy is kept in hiding at home. Her sister, Lizzy, brings her a newspaper as something to read and entertain herself with. Little did she know that this would be where her adventure begins.
‘Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we.’
When Cathy reaches the Emporium, she meets Papa Jack. It becomes clear he has a different name, a past life much more tragic than his life now. Papa Jack set up his extraordinary toyshop after arriving from Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. He is the father of two young boys he had not seen for many years. Originally a carpenter, Papa Jack crafts exquisite toys out of a variety of materials, such as pine cones and twigs.
‘The most terrible things can happen to a man, but he’ll never lose himself if he remembers he was once a child.’
His two sons, Kaspar and Emil, are also incredible toymakers. Each are thoughtful regarding the sibling rivalry about who will inherit the Emporium in the future. Each make amazing and magical toys; soldiers who battle, night lights with changeable scenes, toy boxes which deal with space, paper trees and my favourite in the Emporium, a complete Wendy House.
‘When you are young, what you want from toys is to feel grown up… 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 or hurt you in a pocket of time built out of memory and love.’
Both Emil and Kaspar take a keen interest in Cathy. When the end of the season arrives and Cathy has to leave, a decision is made for her to live in the Wendy house on the shop floor. Each realise that she’s getting bigger! Both brothers visit her as well as the patchwork dog (desperately wanting one of these now!) Cathy has her baby, a girl named Martha. Time to come clean. Papa Jack allows her to stay at the Emporium. He shows her, using the crank of a toy, the story of Jekabs Godman, his role in a war and how he survived. The tragic tale coming to life.
‘I’d found a kind of… a magic, if you will. A way of reaching the soul of a man.’
The next part of the book jumps to 1914 where the threat of war is more than possible. Cathy and Kaspar are the perfect parents to little Martha. The Emporium acts as a safety blanket for most. And yet, war is fast approaching. Emil tries and fails to sign up to serve his country but Kaspar succeeds. As promised, he writes to Cathy every day. However, the narrative is too positive and Cathy is suspicious. She speaks Papa Jack who reveals a magic book in which father and son have been communicating in. The harsh reality of war is revealed. The narrative here is tear jerking, heartbreaking with every description.
‘For the boys I travel with, tomorrow will be their first taste of foreign air. They ask me about the world as if I know anything of it, when the truth is, that, to me, those years before the Emporium are a dream.’
Rather accurately, Kaspar returns from war a changed man. He’s a ghost of his former self, rarely speaking. However, it is the change in the Emporium that bothers him most. The toys have lost a little magic, the shoppers are different, the men are broken in search of a simpler time. It is Emil’s soldiers that cause the biggest reaction in him.
‘And then he was back there. Back where his fingers were grimed in scarlet and black. Back in his uniform, with pieces of his second lieutenant’s brain smeared across his face. His ears were full of the sounds, his nose was full of the smells. He screamed and screamed.’
It was from this moment that the toys needed to change. The death of Papa Jack meant that there was no number one in charge. The sibling rivalry continued. Kaspar was working on something, something different, something big. Martha knew it too. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. Yet, when her father disappeared, more was left unanswered. All that remained were Emil’s toy soldiers, changed.
‘But Papa Jack’s Emporium must endure where I cannot, and so must you my darling.’
The novel ends with an older Cathy living with Martha as a nanny for her two children; the next generation of children to be wowed by tales from the Emporium. It’s pure magic to the last page. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But I completely didn’t expect it!
Read it and love it. Experience your childhood again. Revel in the absolute joy of incredible toys. Worry and feel fear through the war years with the family. Feel like a child again. Dream in magic. I cannot praise or rate this book enough. I love it.
Big love all xx