Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Motion of Puppets

The Motion of Puppets / Keith Donohue
New York: Picador, c2016.
260 p.

It's RIP season, and what better choice for this time of year than creepy puppets? It's my favourite kind of spooky reading.

In this entry into the very specific creepy puppets genre, Kay Harper and her new husband Theo are living in Quebec City while Theo tries to finish writing a book and Kay works in a theatre troupe.

Kay is mesmerized by a toy shop she passes on the way to work, which is never open and looks dusty and abandoned, though there is a tiny wooden mannequin in a bell jar that she can't stop looking at. One day, as she's gazing in, "ever so slightly, the wooden man in the bell jar turned his head to watch her, but she never saw him move, for she had hurried away, late again."

That's the first indication we have that something very unnerving is going on. Then late one night, Kay feels as if she's being followed on her way home, and tries the toy shop door, which is mysteriously open. But she never comes out. As one character says sagely, "Never enter a toy shop after midnight."

Theo is distraught, trying to find her but of course, police investigators look at him as the prime suspect, and no-one will ever think of her being abducted by puppet makers and turned into a marionette.

Kay, meanwhile, is adapting uneasily to her new life as a puppet in the back room of the shop, alongside many other uncannily life-like puppets who can all move and talk from midnight to daylight. They begin to form puppet alliances. Kay remembers her previous life and is sure Theo will come to rescue her even while everyone else tells her to forget and adjust to life as it is now. The only way out of this life is if someone comes for you, and leads you out...but who would think to do so?

Theo makes alliances of his own, first with a dwarf who worked for the same theatre that Kay did, then with a professor of classics once back in New York at his university. The three of them figure things out - long story - and make a plan to invade a barn in the backwoods of New York where the travelling puppet theatre has landed for the winter.

Now, if I had realized that this story was based on / inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, I may have been better prepared for the trajectory. As it is, I was let down and disappointed by the conclusion. There was no resolution, no positive sense of restoration or of love conquering all or any of those kinds of things. All the build-up, and then the story just deflated. I was not expecting the final pages at all.

The story wasn't all that creepy, really, even with some grotesquerie. I would easily suggest this to an older teen reader, as the story isn't overly complex or difficult. Previous books I've read in this area, such as Joanne Owens' The Puppet Master (published as a children's book) were denser and more developed.

So while it's a good fit for this time of year, this was just an okay read for me. I want a little more resolution in my puppet tales, a bit more overcoming-all-odds-and-ending-of-the-nightmare kind of thing. Maybe next year!


Further Reading:

Either of the creepy puppet books I've previously read for the RIP Challenge in the past would be a good next pick, from The Puppet Master to Laura Amy Schlitz' Splendors & Glooms.

And if what you're looking for is a dark tale of toy shops and female leads, incorporating some terrifying puppets, you can't go wrong with Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop.


  1. I have been curious about this one. It is too bad you didn't like it more!

    1. I'd been looking forward to it so I am disappointed I didn't like it more. But I didn't really like his last book either so perhaps he's just not my writer.

  2. Oh, how interesting! I really liked it and thought the ending was very tense. And the whole conceit is creepy, especially the puppetmaster humans. Eek!

    1. Oh yes, the ending was tense! I just wasn't satisfied with it. Those humans were pretty nasty but overall I didn't feel a large creep factor here.

  3. I was disappointed by the ending even though I did know about the connection to Orpheus and Eurydice. While it did not satisfy my romantic bone, it did make for a pretty creepy ending. I also think one of the more terrifying elements of the story is the fact that the puppet masters know the truth. However, I agree that the rest of the novel is a lot less spooky than I had hoped it would be. There are much more terrifying puppet stories out there, as you mention.

    1. That's true, the fact that the puppet masters are quite comfortable with the truth and with adding to their collection is the creepiest thing about the book.


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