Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico

love of seven dollsI chanced upon this book going through my mother’s old collection, and always being intrigued by something short and purportedly fantastical (with a context of carnivals, no less) I gave it a whirl. Not already being familiar with Paul Gallico, I was immediately impressed by the standard of writing and drawn into the enchanting (if now antiquated) world of Love of Seven Dolls – a tale of a suicidal girl finding a reason to go on through a puppet show with a life of its own, travelling across 1950s France. What follows, though, is a remarkable book that turns incredibly dark and does not fully (or in some cases even partly) resolve its negatives, yet somehow remains enchanting. Making it a pretty fascinating read.

What’s special about Love of Seven Dolls

As the awkward but endearingly innocent protagonist Mouche falls in love with an eccentric cast of puppets, she also discovers the very darkest aspects of human nature in the puppeteer. The story charts a dichotomy of love and hate, as a truly malevolent man exposes his good nature only through a puppet show and is otherwise a monster. The result is a story that jumps from sweet and heart-warming to shocking and repulsive. And then back again. By its end, though charting a course towards concepts of happiness and love conquering darkness, the conclusion is much more morally ambiguous than it sets out to be, as the book revels in the co-existence of the light and dark of human nature.

There’s a subtlety to it that is uncomfortable, not quite perfect, and undeniably realistic.

Having read a few reviews of this novella since reading it, many that are still aware of it are full of praise for its interweaving of a modern fairy tale with themes of love and redemption. Others hate it for its out-dated attitudes to abuse and its racist overtones. It’s a book that has to be read as a product of its time (the Sengalese character is woefully treated, and there’s no redemption for that…) – and it is a book where there are no really easy answers. It’s s story that will leave you wondering just how happy the ending really is, yet celebrating the sense of wonder that remains throughout. And it is a story treated with a great command of language that really brings the themes, both good and bad, to life.

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