I was sent this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – Thanks to Pan Macmilan for sending me a copy!
Title: The Doll Factory
Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: 2nd May 2019
The Doll Factory, the debut novel by Elizabeth Macneal, is an intoxicating story of art, obsession and possession.
London. 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and among the crowd watching the spectacle two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.
When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love. But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .
This book is one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read, and trust me, I’ve read plenty! It quite literally kept me reading into the early hours of the morning.
- Usually historical fiction isn’t my go to genre, although I do love studying History. Macneal portrays Victorian London in such a rich and interesting way, that I couldn’t help but be captivated by it. I believe it’s also portrayed in such a realistic manner – all the poverty, social class conflict as well as the societal constraints of the time.
- I love that the story is set in London, as I’ve lived there all my life, I was really familiar with the places that were mentioned in the book and it was cool to imagine them as they used to be. Even for a reader who isn’t familiar, Macneals lavish description will completely immerse you in Victorian London.
- Iris Whittle is a young woman who yearns to be a painter, as that is her greatest passion. However, her life is a far cry from the creative life of an artist, as she wiles away her days in Mrs Salters Doll Emporium with her twin sister Rose, miserable and unfulfilled. I really enjoyed reading through the perspective of Iris, she is so wilful and really comes into her own through the course of the story.
- Alongside Iris’s journey, we also meet Silas Reed, an eccentric and somewhat sinister collector of curiosities. He has spent his life searching and creating unusual artefacts for sale in his strange Soho shop. However he has a far darker interest in Iris, an obsession which grows deeper and more twisted as the story progresses…
- Interwoven through the story are a host of secondary characters, most striking of all: Albie, a young street urchin wishing for a better life for him and his older sister who has resorted to prostitution. Albie is such a mischievous and sweet character, any reader will enjoy his perspective.
- I also found Iris’ twin sister, Rose, a nice contrast, as she is more embittered and resigned to her lot in life, whereas Iris sees a way out – when she meets Louis – and is more of a fighter.
- I also enjoyed the emphasis on Art and specifically Pre Raphaelite Art, as it was cool seeing iconic painters like Millais and Rosetti come to life, albeit with some creative license I’m sure! Louis Frost – who sees Iris and sees her as his new muse – is a fictional member of the PRB, is the epitome of a dashing and elusive artist.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I can see it being really popular on it’s release next year. It’s such a great Victorian thriller and is so well written, I can’t speak any more highly of it!
★★★★★ – 5 Star Rating
Does The Doll Factory sound like a book you would read? Do you enjoy historical fiction? Or are you all about contemporary novels? Would love to chat in the comments!
Until next time,