What a creepy tale is The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal. It is a strange and compelling mixture of creepy taxidermy, the painting of doll’s faces and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists, combined with stalking and kidnapping. I finished it not sure whether I liked it or not. Some parts are beautiful, some are horrifying.
It is London 1850. Queen Victoria is on the throne, the Great Exhibition is being built in Hyde Park and a team of men are searching for wonders to display. Iris and her sister Rose work at The Doll Factory shop, painting personalised faces onto dolls, and sleeping in the attic. They survive but can only dream of having enough money to open their own shop. Iris is desperate to be a real artist. Silas Reed’s Shop of Curiosities Antique and New is popular with Victorian ladies buying dried butterflies and artists wanting stuffed mammals and rodents that can be copied and incorporated into their art. Silas and Iris are linked by Arnie, a young boy who scratches a living by sewing dolls clothes for The Doll Factory, and sourcing recently dead animals for Silas to stuff. When Iris meets Louis Frost, PRB artist, the circle is complete and the threat becomes darker. A two-headed dog, Silas’s most prized handiwork, is selected for display at the Great Exhibition. Meanwhile Iris leaves The Doll Factory to model for Louis, receiving free art lessons from him in lieu of payment. Albie suspects Silas of unnatural interest in Iris and tries to warn her but she doesn’t take him seriously.
I could have done with more of the art, less of the taxidermy and dead animals; but’s that’s just me. It was a long build up to the attack, which made me wonder if this started life as a historical novel about Victorian artists with the distinctly modern psychological thriller narrative layered on top at a later date. But it is a thought-provoking book about the unfairness of poverty and the blithe lifestyle of the rich; about women’s rights and lack of opportunities; and about the power of love and how obsession can turn into possession. The beautiful cover does not hint at the darkness and often gruesome writing inside.
If you like this, try these:-
‘Blackberry and Wild Rose’ by Sonia Velton
‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar
‘The Fair Fight’ by Anna Freeman
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE DOLL FACTORY by @esmacneal #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3WM via @SandraDanby