Book Review

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

The Doll Factory
Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Pages: 336
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Picador
Release Date: 2nd May 2019

I have been wanting to read The Doll Factory book for a while, but never ended up picking it up when I went out. It was chosen as the book for my first buddy read though and I was so happy that I finally got to read it!

Goodreads Synopsis

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 . . .

What I Liked

I have to start with…I still have no idea how to write this review. This is one of the first historical fiction books I’ve read in a while. I did enjoy this book, but I also had a few issues with it. I can’t stress enough how much more I enjoyed reading this book because of the buddy read. Even though I did get a bit behind at the beginning, I caught up and loved talking about each section each week.

The Story

Set in London in the 1850s, we meet the two protagonists. Iris, who with her sister is trapped painting dolls in Mrs Slater’s doll shop. And Silas, the owner of an antiques and cadaver shop, who only has eyes for Iris. Due to a birth defect, Iris’ collar bone is permanently damaged. This prevents her from living the normal happy life that she desires, with the additional pain of constant belittlement from her family and Mrs Slater.

After meeting Louis Frost, the pre-Raphaelite painter, she can’t help herself but strike a deal with him. She will model for him if he teaches her to paint. I love Iris’ part of the book. She is a very strong female character, and she kind of surprised me. I didn’t expect her to be such a down to earth care-free character (towards the beginning) and ended up loving her character.

The struggles Iris and other women were going through during the 1800s, were very interesting to read. I feel like Macneal captured it extremely well and painted a good picture for someone who may not know a lot about that time period.

For me, the beginning was quite slow, yet the ending is extremely fast-paced. Sometimes I didn’t even know what was happening but in a good way. The tension and emotion created for the ending paragraphs are perfect and although I wasn’t jumping for joy at the events and outcome, I loved how thrilling it felt to read.

The Characters

It didn’t come as a surprise that Iris and Louis would become close. I love their relationship and it is definitely one of the main focal points for me during the book. It was truly great watching Iris become herself, from the timid girl to the motivated, empowering woman who just wants to paint. I did however dislike her character in some parts. One particular outburst had confused me as I didn’t really know where it came from.

The stars of the show were definitely Albie and Guinevere. Throughout Albie’s chapters, there was always something new and exciting to add to the story, and all I really want to do is give him a big hug. Now, Guinevere, you will just have to read the book to find out who she is.

Silas. Where do I even begin? I had a lot of mixed feelings about him and they were forever changing throughout the book. I didn’t find his chapters in the book quite as exciting as Iris’ but as the story went on, I think he became a very gripping character and all you can do is read on to try and figure him out.

One issue that I had with the book is that some characters were introduced at crucial scenes, and then never seen again. I know a lot of books do this, but it just seemed weird to me. As I was reading, I was always wondering if they were to return.

Overall Thoughts

I still have mixed opinions about this book and I also found it very hard to write this review. I feel like there’s so much I haven’t written about, but I don’t want to give away too much of the story, so we will leave it at that! If you love reading creepy, unusual books this is definitely for you. The story captivated me especially the last few chapters.

The only thing that let me down a bit was some of the characters. I spent way too long thinking if they were going to come back in it at any point instead of just ignoring it and focusing on the story.

Overall, this is a great historical fiction book that is just creepy enough to keep you engrossed till the very end. I would highly recommend doing a buddy read with this book, and there are some great discussion questions at the end! Just be careful not to spoil the ending.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Manchester blogger with a passion for reading, writing and travelling. I always have a book or a cup of tea in my hand.


31 October 2020 at 12:43 pm

Great review, Ellie! I quite enjoyed this book, it does get creepy at times but I loved the atmosphere and art. I agree with you about the characters!

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