Freedom is more precious than it seems: The Doll Factory by Elisabeth Macneal

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4abddc22-aa5b-4b63-b48c-0b607d2fcc1dI have read The Doll Factory months ago and was sitting on my review- because it is only coming out this week: 2nd of May! This is one of the debuts to watch out this year.

Short take: A truly atmospheric and adventurous novel set in a time of curiosities,  saluting to John Fowles’s The Collector, with aromas of feminism, art and history in a fast-paced plot. I enjoyed this novel, it’s impressively good for a debut and would recommend to historical fiction fans. If you liked Mermaid and Mrs Hancock you might like this!

Iris and Rose are twin sisters, both have physical deformities and they endlessly work in Mrs Salter’s Doll Emporium in Regent Street, making dolls every day, wearing themselves out. Needless to say, this is  Victorian times and Mrs Salter is a truly Victorian novel character, foul as a witch, doesn’t really care about the girls other than to suck their energy out for her dolls! One day Iris’s life changes after a pre-Raphaelite painter, Louise Court sees her through the shop’s window and gets mesmerised by her appearance, desiring to paint her beauty and her physical deformity, asks Iris to model for him. Iris herself has great ambitions about art: but alas, this is a time for men to be artists, not women, especially not working-class women!

Iris is a brave soul and she scraps everything she has and accepts Louise’s offer- in the meantime, a curiosities shop owner called Silas, is watching Iris. After having briefly met her in Great Exhibition, she’s turned into an obsession for this unloved, lonely man who is a taxidermist- creepy as hell, I know. I shouldn’t really tell anymore, as it would be spoiling!

Pros:  I was instantly attached to the story and the book,  the plot had a good pace, Iris is a likeable character. I loved the drama/tension between Iris and Rose. The world-building is amazing- I was almost strolling in Victorian London streets, all the characters, descriptions of places, Great Exhibition, was faultless. I also loved that the story of Iris is not only a struggle to be free, in the context of getting out a job/house/basement, but it is one of jumping the barriers that limit you by your class and gender. Loved this powerful feminist prose. I also loved how real life artists were blended into the novel, this is a novel about art as well as everything. This is a short read offering many things to think about.

Cons: A few parts of the dialogue felt a bit modern for Victorian times. Apart from that it’s a really good debut- very well done and written.

Trigger Warning/One word of advice: don’t snack during the read. I was snacking some fruit whilst reading and parts of “Silas being Silas” was a bit unsuitable during eating. Also there is a really small part of animal cruelty, but if you are a sensitive reader just a heads up.


happy reading!


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