Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Publication Date: 23 April 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Thanks to Beauty and Lace for giving me the opportunity to read and review Elizabeth Macneal’s debut novel The Doll Factory published by Pan Macmillan.
The Doll Factory is a disquieting Historical Romance meets Thriller that is beautifully written. The book is set in London in 1850 as the Pre-Raphaelite artists strive to be recognised as a valid art form, and the city prepares for the opening of the Great Exhibition.
Iris and Rose Whittle are twin sisters, identical and yet not. Rose is the true beauty whilst Iris’s birth had some trauma resulting in her having a warped collarbone. At 15 Rose has a gentleman friend who calls regularly and hints at marriage. Then at 16 Rose contracts smallpox, her face and body scarred by the disease and her left eye blinded. Her gentleman recoils from her and her future is no longer assured.
Their parents have them apprenticed to Mrs Salter and her doll making shop. Here they create dolls in the image of the daguerreotype (an early form of photograph) they are provided with. Sometimes these are a mourning doll to be placed on the grave of deceased child, sometimes a plaything for a living child. The girls no longer laugh together, and in her head, Iris can hear Rose thinking “it should have been you.”
Then Iris is spotted by some of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and asked to model. Iris agrees, whilst knowing that this will be considered scandalous behaviour by her sister, parents and all other upright and God-fearing people, but on the condition that she is taught how to paint. She leaves Mrs Salter’s shop and sets up in her own lodgings and enters the very different world of the artiste.
But lurking in the background is Silas, a strange man who practices a combination of taxidermy and skeleton arrangement both for the artists as props, and for his own predilection. His specimens are in general provided by the orphan street boy Albie , who also provides some items to Iris and Rose for the dolls.
An accident of fate causes Albie to be in a situation where he is required to introduce Iris to Silas. She thinks nothing of the meeting, but Silas is obsessed, convinced that she is his perfect love, and that she feels the same about him. As Iris continues on her way, learning to paint and falling in love with one of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, Silas’ warped and twisted mind works towards ensuring she will be his. If you enjoy both Historical Romance and Thriller genres you will love this book. I give it 4 stars.
This guest review was submitted by our Beauty and Lace Club member: Marcia. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Marcia.