Book Review: The Doll Factory By Elizabeth MacNeal

‘The Doll Factory’ is Elizabeth MacNeal’s 2019 debut novel. It is a gripping historical fiction book which toys the lines of daydreams and obsession, making readers reflect on their past fantasies and the extent to which they manifested.

The story follows several characters, told in a third person point of view, however, the central character in the novel is Iris Whittle, a twenty one year old woman who works in London at a bespoke doll boutique alongside her twin sister, Rose. However, Iris is not content with her work and yearns to become an artist and have her work on the walls of galleries and exhibitions. When Iris is introduced to taxidermist Silas, and later professional artist Louis Frost, her life changes drastically and she is thrust into a world of delightful curiosity, culture and commodity, finding a community in the likeminded artists of London that are known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or PRB.

While ‘The Doll Factory’ is historical fiction novel, it certainly leans toward the Gothic in its conjecture. I was delighted at the chilling nature that MacNeal explores the art of taxidermy and macabre nature of Victorian curiosity cabinets and how striking yet seamless the transition is between the grotesque and sometimes nauseating nature of Silas’ life contrasts with the idea of romanticism and joy that comes from the members of the PRB and their lavish, peculiar lifestyle.

Although I initially struggled to sink my teeth into this novel, intrigued by the premise, but waiting eagerly for the penny to drop, once I was intrigued, it had me in a vice. I loved being so enthralled by the atmosphere and tension , speculating about the consequences that would come from seemingly mundane decisions, like how Iris styled her hair, or whether she pet a dog in the park. I found myself devoting hours of my day to squeezing every last morsel of delicious symbolism from the pages. It truly was an exhilarating read.

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