The Doll Factory

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

Can a novel make you see differently? Is it possible to describe painting to a nonartist, Victorian London with its stench, ambition, and tumult, and a person following their heart and intuition to the life they never even dared to dream? 

Yes, it can -- if it is the fine novel THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal.

In taut, beautiful prose, Macneal draws us into the fascinating world of the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood through the eyes of a woman with a painter's eye and talent, yet destined to serve, to paint doll's faces in a virtual factory of drudgery and disappointment. 

Through the eyes of a young woman, a young boy, and a madman, we experience The Great Exhibition, the squalor of the poor, and the extent to which each person creates their own version of reality and attracts others to share that same vision. 

The plot is gripping and kept me up late at night racing to the breathless and well-paced finish. The characters feel true, immediate, and dimensional blends of good, evil, and undecided.

A wonderful read -- a fantastic and seldom-seen alchemy of historical fiction, thriller, and coming-to-conscious story of exceptional characters.  

Highly recommended.
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This debut novel by Elizabeth Macneal is a wonderfully composed, eerie story reminiscent in spirit of the movie Perfume. Set in the mid 1800’s in London, the story follows Iris and Rose Whittle, 2 young twins who live a simple life making dolls in Mrs. Salter’s doll factory. Each girl suffers a defect, Iris has a bowed collar bone, and Rose’s body was ravaged by smallpox, leaving her permanently disfigured. Iris is given a chance to escape her servitude when she receives an offer from Post Raphealite painter Louis Frost. As his model, she will earn an honest wage and escape her dull life. Even though it means leaving her sister behind, she risks it all for different future. 
Iris’s perfect future comes under threat when she crosses paths with an obscure taxidermist named Silas Reed. Silas develops a obscure obsession with Iris and from the shadows of London’s streets, he stalks her as prey. Silas is a truly demented, pitiful individual, who seems to suffer extreme mental illness. The author is very good at weaving subtle hints into the storyline that give us a true picture of the depravity and horror of Silas Reed. Each individual character is richly described and they each feel real. A wonderful debut. I look forward to future novels from this author.
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Not feeling the love for this one and there is no grooving to the beat of this one for me! This was one Norma and I thought we would love but it was not the dark and twisted that I like to groove to. So I am moving on to the next one and keeping this review short.
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This historical fiction novel is part mystery, part love story, and part thriller. MacNeal’s debut takes place in Victorian England during the time of The Great Exhibition. Iris dreams of learning to paint like a true artist, while she tolls away with her twin sister in a doll shop. Silas is a curiosity collector that can’t seem to get Iris out of his head after their chance meeting, and Albie is the rag-a-muffin street urchin I wanted to take home. Their stories weave together in a slow-burn until the blood pumping, heart racing conclusion.

I didn’t read the description of the book very well when I requested it. I saw the following: Victorian Era, female aspiring painter, male collector of oddities (very big back in the day) and thought “oh fun, a historical fiction/romance set in Victorian times.” Then I met Silas, the collector of oddities and I’ve rarely ever been on high alert so soon after meeting a character. And by high alert, I mean listen on 2.5 speed because I needed, NEEDED, to know what was going to happen - especially in the last 2 hours (yes I ended up listening and highly recommend it!) I adored Iris, the erstwhile doll-painter turned model/artist. She took risks that felt modern yet true to her time period. I loved Guinevere, her owner, and little Albie. Oh, Albie, you sweet, sweet boy. Ugh. I loved this dark, gothic tale. It has quickly become my new book to recommend to all the thriller lovers I know. If you are wondering if it’s for you, it reminded me of #theminaturist , #thethirteenthtale and sort of #sharpobjects. It’s so good people! Everyone needs to be talking about this one!
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This book just wasn’t for me. It was extremely slow going and I was losing patience with it more than anything else.  I was also turned off and a little disgusted by a few scenes and when that happens while reading there usually isn’t anything that will save the book for me whether it’s an amazing read or not. 

I couldn’t resist that gorgeous cover and title of this book though and thought I would absolutely love it.  I’m so disappointed that I didn’t. 

I received an ARC through NetGalley.
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The Doll Factory is a Gothic mystery during the Victorian London era. I loved all the historical facts about socioeconomic status, sexual inequality, and general historical knowledge. Following three characters - Iris, Silas and Albie, their story lines intersect through art, ambition, obsession and madness.  This was a slow read for me but turned creepy and suspenseful. I had trouble connecting with the characters but still enjoyed. Thank you for my copy.
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Centered during Victorian London, the Doll Factory is a gothic mystery that gives a truly perfect representation of that era.  Elizabeth Macneal weavves many historical facts of poverty, squalor, class divisions, sexual inequality and the roles of women through this intense novel.  She is able to show the gritty realism of how it wasn't such a pleasant time to live in if you weren't part of the elite class.  Following three characters - Iris, Silas and Albie, their storylines intersect through art, ambition, obsession and madness.  This novel was very slow moving for me in the beginning, but it finally turned into a creepy and suspenseful mystery that had me completely invested.

Thank you Atria/Emily Bestler Books and NetGalley for an advanced copy for my honest review.
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I received a free e-copy of The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal from NetGalley for my honest review.

This book of historical fiction that is super creepy! This story takes place in 1850's in London. Twin sisters, Iris and Rose, work for Mrs. Salter at the Doll Emporium. The girls paint doll faces and clothe them as well. Iris aspires to be a real artist. Rose doesn't ever want to go anywhere or do anything because of the scars she has on her face from having smallpox.

Iris, who is beautiful, soon becomes the obsession of Silas, a crazy taxidermist who things that he can have her. His obsession of her takes a dark, terrible and twisted path.
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What a deliciously creepy book! I have never read a book written by Elizabeth Macneal but this will not be my last one. It took a minute to get into and to figure out the characters but once you are in it, you just can’t put it down! Thanks for the nice creepy read Elizabeth.
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Fantastic book! I've already recommended this book to several people. Macneal has a way of writing women that is so refreshing and honest. And even though you know where the story with Silas is going, she has such a great way of getting there, building all of the characters in a satisfying way. The only misstep in my opinion was the ending. After spending so much time building relationships, it was a bit of a bummer to not see them past the crisis.
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A creepy, fascinating suspense story. The contrast of Iris' life before and after she started working with Louis was striking.
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I had a difficult time with this one. I wanted to like it but I had a hard time connecting to the characters in the beginning. I enjoyed Albie from the get-go but it took me longer to connect with Iris and I never did with Silas. I didn't like the last character in general, not because he's the villain but because his madness never felt fully real to me, more like he was a caricature of the time period's insane bad guy than a unique person. Because of this I didn't like when the narrative switched to him and continued reading more so in order to hear from the other two. 

The book is well-written for sure and it does have a good pace from the beginning. There were chapters here and there that I enjoyed, in particular after the halfway mark of the novel, but overall this one fell a little flat for me. I can see though that others are enjoying it so I think if you enjoy the time period and horror stories, this one could be a great read for you. 

Note: I received a free Kindle edition of this book via NetGalley in exchange for the honest review above. I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher Atria Books, and the author Elizabeth Macneal for the opportunity to do so.
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Although, I thought the setting was interesting... I couldnt finish this book because it was a little slow for me.
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As the Great Exhibition is built in 1850's London, Iris hopes to escape working in a doll shop and become a painter as she had always dreamed. Becoming the model for Louis Frost opens her world to all kinds of opportunities. The chance encounter with Silas, a curiosity collector that articulated skeletons or butterflies for the morbid tastes of artists and the gentry, is a forgotten moment for Iris. For Silas, it was a moment that sparked an obsession that would never relent.

The Doll Factory is a fascinating look at the Victorian era from the viewpoint of the lower classes, with the aspirations to elevate into a higher class frustratingly difficult and looked down upon at the same time. Iris, a twin that had previously been "the ugly one" because of her malformed collarbone, she had no hope to work on her art without throwing out those aspirations entirely. This puts her at odds with her twin sister and parents, and even the working class looks down on her as little better than a prostitute. Poor children are left to do little more than beg, steal, prostitute themselves or deal with dead bodies to make their living penny by penny. And the darker, obsessive impulses are just as dismissed then as they are now. It's an internal issue, after all, and those in polite society tend to ignore that creeping feeling in their gut that tells them danger is close.

I loved Iris and her story. Though she had little finances and opportunities, it didn't stop her from dreaming and trying her best to practice on her own. She still has scruples and a strong sense of herself, enough that she leaves everything she knows for a chance at a future happiness, then is willing to leave that in order to maintain her dignity and pride. This inner strength carries her through to the very end, especially as Silas circles closer and closer, a stalker long before the word was ever popularized. The look inside his mind is macabre and fascinating, like looking at a train wreck. I know nothing good will ever come of it, and his view of the world has twisted so that inconsequential things take on monumental importance. He assumes a closer relationship to Iris than he actually has, and his view of things deteriorates further.

Though it starts off relatively slowly, getting to know Iris and her twin Rose, Silas, the urchins and the artists, it's still compelling reading. I was drawn into it long before Iris and Silas meet, and before Silas makes a desperate attempt to talk to her at the gallery. Without spoiling the ending, definitely read the final review carefully. This novel is well put together, and the ending fits in such a way that is satisfying.
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3.5 Stars

I was lured into reading this book because of its locale and time period (Victorian London), the Dickensian / gothic atmosphere, and the promise of all things weird. This book delivered on all fronts.

The main character is Iris, who with her twin sister Rose works in a porcelain doll shop in London. The apprenticeship was set up by their parents. The establishment is sandwiched in between other storefronts, one of which is a bakery, resulting in sugary scents wafting into their shop. Iris has artistic talent, and is responsible for painting the faces on the dolls. Rose sews the garments to clothe the dolls. However, a street urchin named Albie has sewing work outsourced to him, which he brings to the shop regularly for payment. Iris and Rose were both beautiful, tall and with long, bountiful auburn hair. However, Iris has a slight deformity of her collarbone which was broken during birth and never healed correctly. Rose's fate was much more cruel. Once the fairer of the two sisters, after contracting smallpox her skin has a purplish cast and is ruined with crater scars. She clings to Iris more than ever, her chance for marriage non-existent.

Albie is my favorite character in the book. His tale is heartbreaking, yet he never gives up. He's a hard worker, resourceful, good-hearted, and has a great survival instinct. He also is a loyal brother to his sister, who works as a prostitute in a seedy basement brothel, her being the cheapest option in the house. He is forever chided for the one front tooth left in his mouth and called "Fang". He dreams of buying a set of false teeth, saving whatever he can scavenge towards that goal. In addition to sewing little skirts for the porcelain doll shop, he also bags dead animals for a very strange man named Silas Reed. Silas has a taxidermy shop with items such as birds frozen in flight, dressed up mice, butterflies under glass, and skeletal remains. Artists sometimes procure items (such as a stuffed dove or a dog) to use in their paintings. There are sometimes strange and unpleasant odors around his shop due to the rotting remains of the animals he works on, depending how careful he has been maintaining things. For on occasion Silas has been distracted... obsessed and angered with women, and has suffered abuse as a child. He's a lifelong victim of rejection, beginning with his mother. Now he has focused his sights on Iris. Initially riveted by the subtle disfigurement of her collarbone, he is now swept away by her overall beauty.

Iris's beauty has also been noticed by a painter named Louis who wants her to be his model. Iris is dazzled by Louis's attractive home which houses his art studio, but is conflicted by the thought of leaving her sister alone at the doll shop. Also, her parents will disown her entirely if she adopts the scandalous job position of painter's model. Yet, she yearns to leave the depressing environs of the doll shop and also wishes to explore her own burgeoning talent as a painter.

This is London during the time of Queen Victoria, and the Great Exhibition is taking place in Hyde Park. Both Louis (and his fellow artist group) and Silas have pieces on display for this exhibition, and hopes are high for a positive reception. There are dark themes in this story such as prostitution, poverty, animal abuse, murder, and mental illness. This book reminded me a bit of a movie from 1965 called "The Collector". There is the terror of evil pursuit, entrapment, and a twisted mind. Quite frankly, if I wasn't reading/reviewing this for the publisher, I possibly would have put this aside for something else. However, the story was written well enough to keep me hanging on.
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While the characters and story line were intriguing and I usually enjoy the disturbing, the story moved along too slowly for me to enjoy.
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Iris has always dreamed of being an artist, a real artist, not just someone stuck in a doll maker’s home painting faces on china doll heads. In London in 1850, however, there were few options for young women outside of marriage, and Iris, with her twisted collarbone, and her twin sister Rose, disfigured by smallpox, had little chance of being marriage material.

Louis was a painter, and after seeing Iris at the building of the Great Exposition, he asked her to model for him. She was reluctant, knowing that modeling was just a step above prostitution, but the offer of painting lessons and the chance to live her own life was just too great to pass up. Rose and her parents disapproved and consequently disowned her, and though Iris was saddened, her new life with Louis was much more fulfilling in many ways.

Silas was a strange man by the standards of the day, one who was fascinated by skeletons and death. He was a taxidermist, frequented by the artists when they needed animals for their artworks. Silas had a darker side, and would make up stories about the animals he stuffed for his shop that usually had a punishment theme. When he saw Iris, he became obsessed, and was determined to have her in his life.

Victorian London is sad and difficult, with people struggling to survive, let alone to rise above their current situations. I appreciated Iris’ courage in following her dreams of painting, even at the cost of losing her family. Overall, I found the story to be slow going during the first half, and though there is great detail and description, I felt that too much time was taken to set the scene, and I was a bit bored.
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Talent...Art... obsession...love...poverty...possibility...yearning...Gothic...Victorian

All words which can be used to describe The Doll Factory, a Gothic Victorian tale set in London in 1850.  When Iris, an aspiring artist meets Louis, pre-Raphaelite artist she agrees to model for him in exchange for painting lessons.  She spends her days painting doll faces and years for more. Silas has also met Iris and he has plans of his own - dark plans which lead to obsession.

This is a dark tale that often had me thinking how lucky I am to live in this day and age. 

For me this was a little slow to start but soon things began to pick up as I learned the characters, their nuances, hopes, dreams, and obsessions.  Although this book never completely knocked me off my feet (or reading chair) I enjoyed the Gothic feel and the downward spiral of obsession.  Then there is the ending..hmmm...was I the only one thinking "what happens next?" quickly followed by "what just happened?" I found the ending to be nothing short of abrupt.  The ending had me wanting more but also helped me to what most of the characters in this book were feeling, most wanted more - more teaching, more love, a better life, a better way to survive, to be a family, to have what one covets most.  The setting was fabulous and the characters intense, with a dark, gloomy atmospheric vibe throughout.  

Thank you to Atria books and NetGalley who provided me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I really enjoyed the creepy gothic feel of this novel and thought the author did a wonderful job of capturing Victorian London.  Where I did struggle though was that I prefer a book where I feel some connection to the main characters and I unfortunately just didn't feel that with the characters in this book.  Some of the taxidermy scenes were a little too much for me as well.  It's an entertaining read but one that I don't think will stick with me long term.
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This book was really eerie and a different read for me.  The characters were all interesting and well developed even though some of them were strange.  I appreciate having the opportunity to read it.
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