The Toymaker (Liam Pieper, Hamish Hamilton)
From the first few pages of The Toymaker it’s obvious that Liam Pieper isn’t pulling any punches: he has your attention straight away as his privileged, wealthy protagonist Adam makes the first in a series of blunderingly bad decisions. Adam, a charming but self-centered man, has inherited his grandfather’s toy company and leads a lavish lifestyle that indulges his childlike and impetuous nature. It’s a lifestyle that’s starkly at odds with that of his grandfather Arkady, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz for homosexuality and put to work in a Sonderkommando. Selected to assist with the medical experiments of Josef Mengele, Arkady is tricked into thinking he can help save some of the children who are used as specimens. Instead, the best he can do is carve them crude toys, a pastime that becomes his post-war salvation. Pieper, whose 2014 memoir The Feel-Good Hit of the Year was shortlisted for the National Biography Award and a Ned Kelly Award, writes superbly. The Toymaker gives immediate and absorbing pleasure, and has similarities to J M Coetzee’s Disgrace in terms of the main character’s wretched search for redemption, both for himself and for humanity. It ends abruptly, posing a question of judgement, but its real interest lies in how flawed human beings can try to get better.
Hilary Simmons is a former assistant editor at Books+Publishing and a freelance writer, copywriter and editor