The Doll Factory
Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Genre: Historical fiction, Gothic fiction, Thriller
Set in 1850 London, England as the Great Exhibition is being set up in Hyde Park and a chance encounter between two people that will alter their life. For Iris, an aspiring artist, who dreams to have her painting hung in the Exhibition one day, the encounter is soon forgotten. But for Silas, a collector and a taxidermist, that meeting marks a new beginning.
«Like an opium addict who has managed to be dry for weeks, who feels his footsteps winding him towards the soiled dens of Shadwell to breathe in the poppy vapours, he knew he could not resist finding her. His creature. »
Iris, along with her twin sister Rose works in a doll shop where they paint doll faces all day long, while being carefully watched by a mad old woman the shopkeeper Mrs Salter. Iris longs to be free and to be a painter, but as a woman (and being seen as an object) in the Victorian ages that was difficult. But, When Iris is asked to model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louise Frost (a made-up member), 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 the meeting, and his obsession is darkening…
It is hard to realise that this is Macneal´s debut novel, the way she makes all the details come so vividly alive (want to put in an animal cruelty trigger warning here, these made it a little difficult to read on sometimes), but it is also beautifully executed when describing the atmosphere around Victorian London. I liked how Macneal put historical figures into the story, but in the background (And there’s a Wombat (I kid you not)). You´ll even find Mr. Dickens himself bopping up.
There are three narrators, Silas, Iris, and Albie the street urchin who just want to make enough money to buy new teeth and do right by his sister. With his good heart and optimism, he´ll most likely become your favourite. Iris defies her family and sits for Frost, even though she knows it´s just a thin line from prostitution, she does it anyways and breaks free from her arranged life. But she soon realises that to acquire the skills to paint as a professional, she must play by society´s rules and to enjoy the romance between her and Frost, she must keep her talent subordinate to his.
“Her life was a cell before, but now the freedom terrifies her,”
But the most intriguing is Silas, he is so well written. He is the reason I kept reading. The way he goes to this little weird man that you feel a little sorry for and occasionally talks to himself and makes up stories in his head (I mean who doesn’t) to Joe in YOU in just a few chapters is creepy, scary and so real. He will make you shudder. (I want to put a trigger warning here as well because Silas is an example of someone who are unable to find a sexual/romantic relationship despite desiring one, and when they get rejected, they tend to turn violent. )
It is well paced, rich in detail and an intense novel . BUT, The ending was a little bit.. abrupt. You are left wanting more. So fingers crossed for a sequel xxx
If you like a good creepy story or a fan of the books like Perfume by Patrick Süskind, the Collector by John Fowles, or YOU by Caroline Kepnes or just a good gothic tale with an atmosphere this summer, I would recommend you The Doll Factory.