The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
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 . . .
Silas is sitting at his desk, a stuffed turtle dove in his palm. The cellar is as still and quiet as a tomb, aside from the slow gusts of his breath which ruffles the bird’s plumage.
The Doll Factory was the book that I chose to kick off my Fall reading, and what a place to start! This has to be one of those most dark and twisted tales that I have ever read. It has been a week since I put it down and it continues to haunt me.The setting, 1850s London, is the perfect backdrop for this atmospheric and creepy story. Macneal’s descriptions of that time are so vivid that you almost feel as if you have been transported there. The Great Exhibition
was an essential part of the story. I had never heard of this event before picking up The Doll Factory, and I was intrigued to look more in to it. I love when historical fiction compels you to do your own research!
I have spoken many times of my love for art in books, and that was a big part of this novel. Our main character, Iris, is an inspiring artist who sits as a model for Louis Frost- a fictional artist who Macneal has made part of the real group Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I was also intrigued about them and discovered that they were a interesting group of characters! I loved the part that art played in this story and it is a big reason why I ended up loving The Doll Factory as much as I did.
Silas, who I guess you could say is a taxidermist, is a complex character. There were moments where I felt so sorry for him despite is deplorable actions. I do not want to say too much about him because he is someone who is best discovered on your own.
There is also an interesting sibling relationship that part of me wishes was explored even more. Iris has a twin, Rose, and their relationship has its ups and downs but I never felt like I got the closure that I wanted.
I have to point out that there was some animal abuse that made me very uncomfortable and was difficult to read.
I recommend this book to the right audience- it will not be for everyone. If you like dark historical fiction that makes you uncomfortable and will keep you up at night, than this is the book for you.