Book #43

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

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.

If you can imagine Joe Goldberg as a taxidermist living in Victorian London, you can probably imagine the entirety of this story. Obsessed with Iris, an aspiring artist working alongside her twin sister in a doll-making business, our Joe, who we will call Silas from here on, focuses his attention on ensnaring her and making her his own.

Macneal’s depictions of period London, its poverty, its customs, its smells and sights, is wonderful. There’s a real degradation at work, an emphasis on the futility of life, an exploration of classism, and how people survive. It’s a gorgeous account of a dirty city with an even dirtier underbelly.

There was something to be desired in the characters, however. Huge steps were taken to develop backstories and motivations, to allow me an insight into the deepest desires and triggers of these people, and yet I felt little to no connection with any of them. Where I should’ve gasped in shock, lamented in woe, riled in exasperation, I simply just read on, emotionless.

A gorgeous account of Victorian London, with some fascinating psychological commentaries. Definitely one to pick up if you ever wondered how Joe would commit his heinous acts without the benefits of technology.