Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 30, 2016

The Toymaker (2016), by Liam Pieper

The Toy MakerI did not like this book.  Not at all.

The Toy Maker is the first novel of Liam Pieper, a freelance journalist from Melbourne.  It has been reviewed in The Australian and The Saturday Paper and the SMH so it doesn’t need any additional publicity from me and I will keep this brief.

Its crude language and sleazy beginning put me in mind of the unpleasant characters in Christos Tsolkias’s The Slap and the juxtaposition of the contemporary story strand with Grandfather Arkady’s survival of the Holocaust was grotesque.

There is a claustrophobic palette of characters, none of whom have any redeeming features.  Adam Kulakov is a middle-aged businessman with a penchant for schoolgirls.  His wife Tess works for him and discovers irregularities in the toy factory’s books.  There is a child called Kade whose only role is to road-test the toys.

Tess, who has no friends, no other life than the child and the factory, has a close relationship with Grandfather Arkady. Her husband is busy outsourcing the manufacture of the toys to developing countries with dubious working conditions so that he can get enough money to pay a blackmailer.

The Holocaust thread seems gratuitous to me, an opportunity to revisit some sickening scenes for material for Arkady’s ‘secret’. It contributes nothing new, and there is no exploration of redemption.

The Toy Maker is a shallow book, and it was not worth my time.

Young Australian author Amy Matthews shows that it is possible for new generations to write sensitively about the Holocaust in her novel End of the Night Girl.   But it is not ever a topic to be undertaken lightly…

©Lisa Hill

Author: Liam Pieper
Title: The Toy Maker
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, 2016
ISBN: 9780670079384
Review copy courtesy of Penguin Australia.


  1. I don’t see the attraction of anti-heroes myself. I followed the links to the SMH and Sat.Paper reviews – one each way – but can’t see that having bad parents is an excuse for sleeping with schoolgirls, and blaming the schoolgirl doesn’t help either. Agree about Holocaust, it’s too raw to be (mis)used as a plot device.


    • I think there’s a place for anti-heroes, and they don’t necessarily need redemption for a story to work, but it’s a cliché to blame it all on parents/upbringing. The trouble with this is there’s no subtlety, it’s like a weak film script jumping from scene to scene, tacking in some back story when it seems to need it. One of those reviewers called the change in tone for the Holocaust sections ‘jarring’ and that’s what it is, it felt like Holocaust Porn to me.


  2. Lisa, I love your honesty. That is the kind of review I want to read about novels. I respect your reviews, and I dislike reviewers who beat around the bush and never really say anything worthwhile.


  3. I also really appreciate your honesty. As a descendent of those who suffered in the holocaust, I never want to read about the details. I saw what just being on the periphery did to my mother in terms of dealing with lifelong depression. I can’t comment on the book itself – I haven’t read it. And I won’t.

    Love all the reviews even though I rarely comment. Thank you!



  4. Thank you, Lynne and Meg. It’s always harder to write a review like this, and I think about it carefully before I do. Your feedback makes it all worthwhile:)


  5. Not surprised you didn’t like it – sounds naff!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a shame! I loved his memoir (although I do think it stretched the truth a little, in the same way as Augusten Burroughs did in Running with Scissors).


    • Maybe he’s better at non-fiction?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Or maybe he’s a one-hit-wonder?!


        • Who knows? 5-star reviews at Goodreads suggests there’s a market for this kind of thing…


          • Ultimately I’d rather read a book that draws strong opinion – lots of one star AND five star reviews – as compared to a book that gets an ‘average’ three from everyone. That said, based on your thoughts on this book, I’m unlikely to read it now.


            • I think the GR rating system is falling into disrepute because there are so many of those 5-star ‘honest’ reviews in exchange for a free book.


  7. I came looking for the sleazy book noted in the Wood Green review….


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