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The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal


The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
Published in: 2019
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: [★★★]

This ARC was provided by Pan Macmillan (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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 . . .

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This was a solid 3 star read for me, the book is difficult to categorise as there is a lot going on. We have a fictional view of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood how they work and the attitude towards women in art, we have a slow building romance and an even slower building story of obsession and the descent into irrational action.

This book works really well describing the PRB and how they work, there are detailed descriptions of how they prepare their canvas and their paints before they start work to give the best use of light and shadow to bring their works to life. Some reviewers have commented that this is boring but for me this was a delightful insight into how art comes alive. When Iris is modelling Macneal describes perfectly the boredom and the muscle ache that comes with holding one position for a long time, there is nothing glamorous in the job and that is realistic.

The other thing it does really well is to portray how the mind of someone obsessive actually works and seeing this transformation and piecing together the small snippets we are given from the past makes this a foreboding read. Some reviewers have commented that this is too slow moving for a thriller, they are correct the mistake they have made is classifying this book as a thriller it is not, this is a look into the world of untreated mental illness and how things can escalate in an irrational mind to the point of no return. It shows how the person can continue to justify their actions attributing things to others that are not actually there.

While I enjoyed most of the book I must highlight a couple of trigger warnings here, there is animal death and detailed descriptions of taxidermy some may find these more than they can stomach.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to those who like historical detail, slow paced character studies and who can take the triggers warned about above.


We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

One Comment Post a comment
  1. like you I’d enjoy reading the details of how artists actually work …


    April 28, 2019

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