Review of ‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal

I found this book to be disappointing and unpleasant. I feel bad saying this of a debut novel which won the 2018 Caledonia Award (an international competition for unpublished novels), but my reviews are always honest, so here goes…

But I’ll tell you what it’s about first. This historical novel focuses on Iris, a young woman who leaves her awful job in a dollmaking workshop to become an artist’s model. Her twin sister, Rose, disfigured by smallpox and bitter about everything, stays in the job while Iris lives a bohemian lifestyle with the (fictional) painter Louis Frost, part of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Iris is friends with a kind urchin called Albie, who in turn runs errands for the obsessive collector Silas. Iris is in danger but she doesn’t know it…

Reading the blurb from the NetGalley website, I really thought this would be my kind of book. Victorian setting? Check. Pre-Raphaelites? Check. Hints of gothic thriller? Check. But what’s not mentioned is that Silas, the ‘baddie’ of the story, is a taxidermist, a fact that would have made me avoid reading it at all. I mean, there are descriptions of how he does his work. Not only this, there are incidents of cruelty to animals throughout the book but particularly towards the end. To me this seemed gratuitous and was upsetting to read. So… consider that a content warning.

There were other aspects of the novel that I also found disagreeable. Someone near the end of the story gets killed, who should have deserved a happier ending. I can’t see how it helped the story at all. Apart from this, there are no twists. It all goes along a predictable trajectory in the second half of the book. I feel that the author didn’t grab enough opportunities to surprise the reader. Meaning that this is not actually a thriller. The pacing is quite good, giving the novel a page-turning quality, but the story could have been so much better. It reminded me a lot of The Collector by John Fowles.

What I did like was the meaning of the ‘doll factory’ itself. It becomes a symbol for how women are viewed and portrayed by society as pretty, weak, fragile creatures with empty heads who are there to be used and abused at men’s will. Iris is a strong protagonist who wants to be a professional artist and escape the world of dolls.

The Doll Factory will be published by Picador on 2nd May. Thank you to the publisher Pan Macmillan for providing an advance reading copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

22 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal”

    1. Thanks! I thought I was going to like it, at least, judging by how it was described. But I found so many aspects of the book unpleasant, while I suppose other readers might just describe it as dark.

  1. I’ve been looking forward to reading this when it’s released, so a shame that you didn’t like this. I agree with you on animal cruelty, there is often no need for it whatsoever. Good review. ๐Ÿ˜ถ

  2. I have this one next to read funnily enough! The premise and summary sounds interesting which is why I requested it and so I’m hoping that I’ll find it enjoyable but its good to read your thoughts. I’ll have to read and let you know what I think! ๐Ÿ˜›

    1. I hope you like it! There’s a lot of buzz about this one isn’t there? I just got more annoyed with it the further I read.

  3. Thanks for your very honest review. I was toying with reading this but despite my tough exterior I crumble at animal cruelty. Thanks for the heads up! ๐Ÿ˜Š

    1. Thank you! There was nothing in the marketing of the book at all to suggest the animal abuse theme, or else I wouldn’t have requested it to read.

  4. I started this and I got bored really quickly. I just had a feeling it was going to be a slow burner and I wasn’t feeling it. I enjoyed your review as always! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Oh thank you! I think you are the only other blogger so far who has not liked this one. I’m sure if this hadn’t been an ARC, I wouldn’t have finished it. But then there’d be no review ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Well I was excited about this one… I’m joking, I guess I’ll see for myself when I finally get on top of my TBR! Based on what you’ve said though, I’m not holding out much hope…

    1. I seem to have the knack of disliking the books that everyone is raving a about ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Thanks for your honest review! I enjoyed this book, really loved the era descriptions and the atmosphere, but kind of agree on taxidermy, it was so gross :(( but I took that as if it’s a part of Silas and show how cruel and soulless he is!

        1. absolutely.. a thing I cannot stand in a book is child abuse or really graphic rape scenes, so I always appreciate when people share trigger warnings!time and money saved <3

    1. Yes the era was described very well and the author has undeniably done some excellent research. I just wish I’d known about that theme before hand, or I wouldn’t have read the book.

  7. I started this book but couldn’t go past 35% ! The graphic descriptions of all the things going wrong was hard to digest that I couldn’t finish it ๐Ÿ™ˆ
    I completely agree with your review…

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