The Dollmaker

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

A diminutive doll maker writes a letter to a woman living in a medical facility. She, also a fan of dolls, writes back. And gradually, they fall in love..... 
This is the very heart of this story. As these two people learn about each other, so do we. Andrew decides that Bramber needs rescuing from her confinement and sets off to find her. Interwoven with this journey are dark folk tales that also feature stories of dwarves, dolls and desire.
The story felt a little disjointed and, ultimately, the addition of the Chaplin stories did not feel like it added much to the narrative. In fact, the colour in these only seemed to highlight the drabness of Andrew and Bramber. Not a favourite, I'm sad to say...
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What a fabulous cover, also the blurb on the back of the book made me instantly want to read more. It is a very strange and unusual novel and the structure is most peculiar. The story explores the letters between Andrew Garvie and Bramber Winters, who come to know each other through their mutual interest in dolls.  As I said a strange and interesting concept. I don't want to give too much away. Recommended.
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A fascinating and very different book. Not at all what I was expecting from the cover, but I really enjoyed it.
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I had no idea what to expect from this book. I loved the descriptions and the characters, both were so quirky and so misunderstood. I really enjoyed it but I did keep having a moment where I flashed back to a scene in Brooklyn 99 where Jake and his girlfriend go away from a romantic weekend and the B&B is filled with dolls - everywhere! However, very enjoyable book. Thanks.
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The Dollmaker by Nina Allan is an original novel that I enjoyed from start to finish. i had never read a book by this author before but I was pleasantly surprised. Allan has a lovely way with words and has created strong and memorable characters. The plot line moves at a good pace and maintains the readers attention. I look forward to reading more from the author in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this ARC.
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The Dollmaker is an unusual book and for quite a while, I was sure whether I liked it or not. The main narrative is between Andrew, a man who has had a fascination with antique dolls since childhood, and Bramber, a woman living in an institution. Interwoven between their letters are dark, fairy tales written by Ewa Chaplin who is a dollmaker that Bramber wants to learn more of. I actually found these fairy tales more interesting than the story of Andrew and Bramber which seemed a bit dull in comparison. Overall, I did enjoy the book and I look forward to reading other works by Nina Allan.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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Andrew Garvie lives a quiet life making delicate and intricate dolls, Bramber Winters lives in isolation in an institution. Their paths connect after Andrew answers Bramber’s personal ad in a Collector’s magazine. They grow in closeness with every passing letter and Andrew hatches a plan to journey through England to rescue her.

As Andrew travels he reads Ewa Chaplins’ fairy tales, thus introducing stories within the story.

As this novel contains mini tales throughout, the overarching structure was difficult to follow. I’m sad to say it fell short. I found myself disappointed when the fairy tales ended and ‘real life’ resumed. I was absolutely in love with the story of Nelly Toye and would have loved a fully fleshed novel of that tale. 

Nothing about this book is bad but I just found myself wishing for more.

3/5 Stars 

Thank you to Quercus Books for providing an e-ARC copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Fascinating characters, and stories which kept you reading to find out more. Lovely lyrical descriptions and wonderful use of language to set the scene.
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I have to confess that china dolls, like clowns give me the creeps so I don't know why this book called out to me to be read! I'm glad it did because it has joined the list of 'most memorable reads' this year.

Andrew has always liked dolls. Maybe his small stature drew him to the miniature people. Whatever it was, his interest in them eventually led to him making exquisite handmade creations. In an attempt to reach out to a fellow enthusiast he answered a pen-pal ad in a specialist doll magazine and so grew the snail mail relationship between Andrew & Bramber, a woman living in a large house in Bodmin-an institution she has been in since girlhood. As their relationship develops Andrew decides to travel to Bodmin to meet her.

This book is written in a fairly unusual way following Andrew's life, the letters between him & Bramber & the stories written by Polish dollmaker Ewa Chaplin. It takes a while to get used to this but the whole book is beautifully written & kept me totally enthralled Thanks to Netgalley & the publisher for letting me read & review this book- I loved it!
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Andrew, an avid lover of dolls, takes a trip across SW England in order to rescue Bramber, his pen pal.  He’s convinced he loves her and is need of his help.  Interspersed with the letters and Andrew’s experiences are fairy tales featuring dwarfs.  I thought I’d really enjoy this book after reading its description but I didn’t and instead found myself skimming more and more (the fairy tales and most of Bramber’s letters).  The cover was intriguing and the book was well written, but just not to my taste.
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Such a beautifully written book with wonderful turns of phrase throughout. The Dollmaker is filled with stories within stories as well as having tangents thrown in for good measure.   The characters are also memorable as well as compelling which is a requirement for a novel with this kind of ambition.

While I'm not sure I can recommend the book for an impatient reader,  I suspect The Dollmaker will get nominated for numerous book awards upon its publication.  

With thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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This is a beautifully written, sinister gothic tale, reminiscent of fairytales. The story format is almost like a collection of short stories and can take some getting used to, but all in a good read.
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A swiss-roll of odd elements; gathering up a snarl of peculiar ingredients in its entrails, Nina Allen's, The Dollmaker was not for me. The first person narrative; the letters; the mystery and secrets; the short stories; the disabilities...too much.
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Andrew a doll maker is off on a journey to find a young woman he has been writing to for some time. Along the way he learns about himself and her. Will he find her and will she want to know him?

I had high hopes for this but it didn't quite live up to it. It was an interesting story but just didn't draw me in that much. I enjoyed the letters Bramber sent him. It helped develop her character and I really enjoyed the translated fairy tales. The ending was good and finished the story nicely. An interesting read but not enough for me. I'm sure others will love it though.
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I was sent a copy of The Dollmaker by Nina Allan to read and review by NetGalley.
I have very mixed feelings about this book.  I enjoyed the main story of the relationship between the dollmaker of the title, Andrew, and his correspondent Bramber and the way their relationship unfolded.  I was not so taken however, with the chapters of the character Ewa Chaplin’s modern day fairytales.  I found these to be overly long and, for me personally, rather irrelevant and quite possibly unnecessary!  I found the novel to be quite unsure of its era , though this may well have been a foil by the author by making the setting seem old fashioned even though it is set in the present day. Living as I do in Cornwall I must say I was absolutely appalled by some of the blatant inaccuracies regarding the county; even if a place is used within the context of a novel surely it must actually be founded on the reality?!  I was really looking forward to reading The Dollmaker and I think it had real potential but I’m afraid it fell far short of my expectations, hence the three stars.
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I was initially attracted to The Dollmaker by the cover and the book description but it turned out to be quite different from what I expected.  The book has an unusual structure: an episodic first person account by Andrew, a collector and maker of dolls, of his journey to the West Country to meet Bramber; letters from Bramber to Andrew from the institution where she resides; and short stories with a dark, fairy tale quality purporting to have been written by dollmaker, Ewa Chaplin.

I found Andrew's narrative with its rather downbeat impression of South-West England a little boring and Bramber's letters unrealistic in their level of detail. The short stories I found slightly creepy and I really didn't get the seeming fixation with dwarves. It was all a bit too strange for me and more than once I considered not finishing it. It was only curiosity that made me persevere to the end and I'm still not certain that effort was worth it.  I know others have loved it however its unusual combination of travelogue, short story collection and epistolary confessional just didn't work for me.
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The Dollmaker bears all the hallmarks of Nina Allan’s fiction: it’s an orchestral piece of multiple harmonies, delicately stitched together out of different genres of story. Like the dolls that its central characters love and make it is much more than the found, borrowed and crafted materials from which it is made. Allan specialises in a kind of storytelling that I can best describe as resonant. Motifs, themes and imagery move through her work in a way that is intuitive rather than thematic. I respond to her writing at a gut level long before I understand it. 

Andrew Garvie is drawn to dolls from a young age, arrested by the loveliness of their porcelain faces and neat hands. It’s an interest that arouses the suspicions of his family and later his colleagues, who find his interest troubling, as though it reflects something not quite right about him. Culturally dolls are not only toys but also uncanny and magical, sometimes sinister. Andrew’s interest in them marks him as different, possibly deviant; they make him stand out as surely as his small stature. As a dwarf he is already carrying round a heavy baggage of associated folklore and myth. 

When we meet him in his mid-30s he’s been deeply lonely for a long long time. Which is why he responds to a personal ad at the back of a doll-collecting magazine, posted by an enigmatic woman called Bramber Winters. She is seeking information about an obscure post-war dollmaker called Ewa Chaplin, an artist and writer whose dolls are vanishingly rare and unique. Andrew doesn’t know a great deal about Ewa but writes anyway, and gradually forms an attachment to Bramber via their correspondence. He knows very little about her real-life circumstances, other than that she lives in some kind of institution, but he feels he understands her and that she, in turn, understands him. It’s an intoxicating feeling. 

The novel is constructed from Bramber’s letters to Andrew, interspersed with the story of the journey he makes, unannounced, from London to Devon to visit her. Along the road he reads from Ewa Chaplin’s only published collection of short stories, five of which are included in full. 

This sounds relatively mundane, but The Dollmaker is not in a mundane register at all. It’s tone is fantastical, casting a spell-like unreality over Andrew, Bramber and their lives. This is partly achieved through the intercession is Ewa’s stories, which tell of sinister other-worlds in which women fall in love with beggars, alchemists steal time, aunts turn out to be faeries and artists live under harsh theological laws. Threads of glamour, artifice, bewitchment and folktale run through them, which combine with the novel’s fixation on dolls to beg questions about reality, power and passion. These unsettling ideas seep out into the interstices of Andrew and Bramber’s story so that their world - our world? - also seems strange and treacherous. This combination of reality and unreality, the constant shifting of the goal posts of the truth and the imagined is familiar to anyone who has read The Race or The Rift. There is a quality of hallucination to all of Allan’s novels, which constantly challenges you to reassess exactly what kind of story you are reading. 

At the centre of the book is the genre of the quest: Andrew’s journey towards Bramber recalls the Arthurian trials of knights who set out to find their true love. He knows he makes an unlikely Lancelot or Galahad but he pushes on, a fact that makes him both very vulnerable and incredibly brave. There are so many times when the novel wrongfoots you about the outcome of his journey. At times it’s so unnerving you dread him reaching his destination; what will be waiting for him there? But although The Dollmaker is sinister it isn’t cynical. There is a sincerity to it that makes it feel buoyant, a yearning towards love and companionship and the possibility of connection through mutual respect that delivers a beautifully delicate and complex ending.  I absolutely loved it.
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This is such a unique story. I have to say that i struggled with the first few chapters and put it down only to pick it up a week later and was hooked.
It's a love story and a fairy tale that merges together to bring an other-worldly narrative to the story. It is about a boy, Andrew and a girl, Bramber, both with a passion for dolls who write to each other and hope that fate will bring them together. The dilemma is that Bramber lives in a institution in Bodmin, Cornwall, with demons of her own to deal with. What they are, you will have to read to find out.
The Dollmaker reminded me a little of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, another fabulous book.
If you are prepared for a unique and slightly weird novel then you will love this. I know i did! 
I just reviewed The Dollmaker by Nina Allan. #TheDollmaker #NetGalley 
[NetGalley URL]
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I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes. Thank you!

Nina Allen’s The Dollmaker is a strange novel. It contains a jumble of elements: a boy, then a man, interested in making dolls, his long-distance friendship with a mysterious woman, conducted by the means of letters, short stories written by a (purportedly) Polish refugee, concerned with strange events, dolls and dwarfs, and the way fiction and “real life” permeate each other. 

There are many pieces to this puzzle, and many of them are interesting and engaging on their own, but on the whole, it doesn’t all quite come together. Sometimes it feels a little like an A.S.Byatt novel (and I love A.S. Byatt). Sometimes it feels like Jostein Gaarder. It can be captivating and fascinating, but it doesn’t quite work.

I am especially perplexed by the supposed Polish writer and her short stories. Why make her Polish (Polish Jewish) if the stories don’t really have much to do with Poland? The names used in the stories especially are such a weird mix of kinda-Polish, kinda-maybe-Jewish, kinda-maybe-German, and then just plain made up. And okay, a lot of them have a fairytale-like quality, maybe the names aren’t supposed to be genuine: but on the other hand, there is an introduction to the stories written by a contemporary Polish scholar called “Krystina Lodz” and… nope. First, “Krystyna”. Second - “Lodz”, seriously? There are thousands of last names in Polish that don’t contain any diacritics and would sound much less fake. Would it really be that difficult to find a Polish-speaking person  to look through these parts of the book?

On the whole, it was an interesting reading experience, but (as you can see above) fairly frustrating.And even though I cannot wholly recommend this book, I’m very interested in what Allen writes next.
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Struggled to get into the book due to the writing style. Enjoyed the concept and the ideas but I found it a little confusing.
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