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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Mad Toy

Roberto Arlt

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To purchase Mad Toy

Title: Mad Toy
Author: Roberto Arlt
Genre: Novel
Written: 1926 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 158 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Mad Toy - US
El juguete rabioso - US
The Mad Toy - UK
Mad Toy - Canada
Mad Toy - India
Le jouet enragé - France
Das böse Spielzeug - Deutschland
Il giocattolo rabbioso - Italia
El juguete rabioso - España
  • Spanish title: El juguete rabioso
  • US title: Mad Toy
  • UK title: The Mad Toy
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Michele McKay Aynesworth
  • Also published (UK, 2013) in a translation by James Womack
  • UK edition has an Introduction by Colm Tóibín

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit rough in its structure, but good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian* . 8/9/2013 Anthony Cummins
[* review of 2013 translation]
  From the Reviews:
  • "James Womack's fizzy translation yo-yos between the high-flown and the low-slung as befits a cocktail of surreal dream sequences and down-and-dirty naturalism. The quick-fire dialogue appears boldly (and justifiably) in an unstuffy modern idiom" - Anthony Cummins, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Mad Toy is a short four part coming of age novel, each of the four chapters basically focused on a different stage of Arlt stand-in Silvio Drodman Astier's youth and young adulthood.
       Silvio narrates the story, and begins with his free-spirited early teen years. The novel opens with him being: "initiated into the thrilling literature of outlaws and bandits". Silvio grows up in a bookish environment, and he and his friends and family are presented as passionate readers throughout; in this opening, stories are literally plastered on the walls (of a shop), but he is constantly referring to various popular authors and their endless book-series as well. Silvio is critical of some of the pulp that gets read, but he obviously indulges constantly even in that and it is very much part of his world -- the world of his rich imagination, and then to some etent of his reality, as he tries to imitate it and create his own adventures with some friends.
       Making a new friend, he is entranced by how his family lives:

     With the exception of one absent person, the local police officer, everyone in that small, quiet cave idled in sweet vagrancy, passing in lazy leisure from the novels of Dumas to the comforting sleep of their siestas and the friendly gossip of the afternoon.
       Silvio and his friends are inspired by their reading -- "eager to follow in the footsteps of Barabbas and to court immortality as notorious criminals". They form a 'Club of the Midnight Horsemen', out for adventure; naturally, they propose:
The Club should have a library of scientific works so that the brotherhood may rob and kill according to modern industrial methods.
       It's all child's play, of course, but they engage in petty theft and then do stage one grander break-in. Typically, what they steal (to re-sell) are books -- and lightbulbs (at that time a still (more) valuable commodity).
       In the second part, the time for child's play is over. Silvio turns fifteen, and his mother says there's no choice but for him to find a job. The family isn't well-off, and there's not enough money for him to study -- or to write. His mother holds out hope for the future, when Silvio's sister finishes her studies, dreaming that perhaps things can be different: "The day Lila graduates and you publish something ...".
       Silvio finds employment -- and terrible living conditions -- in -- where else ? one is tempted to say -- a bookstore. It is hardly a literary idyll -- indeed, it could be almost any sort of business, complete with the domestic conflicts between the owner and his wife that overwhelm almost everything else. This chapter, too, is an almost self-contained story, concluding very nicely with a despairing Silvio taking drastic action to change his circumstances -- that (thankfully) fizzles out.
       The third part opens with Silvio at home again, surrounded by books yet again -- including sentimental novelist Luis de Val's: "Virgin and Mother, four volumes of eighteen hundred pages each" -- but:
     Now comfortably settled in, I eyed Virgin and Mother with distaste. Today I was clearly not in the mood to read a potboiler, so I picked up Electrical Engineering and began to study the theory of rotating magnetic fields.
       Silvio has long been an amateur inventor, coming up with some clever inventions -- but, as with literature, circumstances don't allow him to unfold his talents fully. Here, briefly, he would seem to get an opportunity, as the Military School of Aviation is looking for candidates and Silvio easily impresses with his knowledge, winning a place as as apprentice airplane mechanic. This dream, too, is shattered -- "We don't need smart people here, just dumb brutes who can work", he's told.
       Finally, in the fourth part, Silvio finds another job, as a paper salesman -- if not dealing with books, literature, and printed words, he at least handles the blank sheets of potential ... (even if most of the sales are for packing paper). Despite some initial frustrations, he makes something of a success of it -- though frustrations continue. And the story also comes full circle, as his childhood past resurfaces -- as well as an opportunity for a coup of the sort he dreamed of with his friends, back in the day, a money-filled safe, there for the taking. Silvio faces a moral dilemma -- to commit this crime and leave everything he knows behind, or to rat out his co-conspirator .....
       Mad Toy is a quick four-stage Bildungsroman of a young man who bursts with ambition and fantasy:
     More than ever I was convinced that a great destiny lay ahead of me. I could be an engineer like Edison, a general like Napoleon, a poet like Baudelaire, a devil like Rocambole.
       Inspired by the fantasy-world of the romantic literature he voraciously consumes, but also with a real-world technical aptitude, Silvio dreams of greater things but finds himself limited by circumstances, even in the vibrant Argentina of that time. (When Arlt published the novel, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world.) Arlt is good with Silvio's adventures, each almost a story unto itself, but this also leaves the novel too episodic -- a series of chapters from the life, without sufficient sense of a continuum. It's quick and observant, but ultimately also a bit thin.
       Where Arlt excels is with character: though this is very much Silvio's story, and the episodes focus very much on him, it's the colorful people he deals with that really stand out. The descriptions of the back-and-forth between Silvio and a desperate homosexual, or his relationship with Rengo, who plans and proposes the safe-theft, are particularly good. Throughout, Arlt also plays with speech, as various characters speak in different dialects, or have different personal tics -- with translator Aynesworth noting the many difficulties that poses in translation. Enough comes across to give a good impression, and it all works very well in the larger story.
       The stories -- Silvio's adventures, as it were -- are themselves quite good, and the characters even better, making for a solid, enjoyable little read. Mad Toy feels somewhat like an apprentice-work, Arlt trying out a variety of things rather than working towards really constructing a complete novel -- but he's certainly talented enough that it's still quite worthwhile

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 July 2018

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Mad Toy: Reviews (* review of 2013 translation): Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Roberto Arlt lived 1900 to 1942.

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