The Doll Factory

The Doll Factory

by Elizabeth Macneal


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The #1 international bestseller and The New York Times Editor’s Choice

“As lush as the novels of Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield, as exciting as The Alienist and Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost, this exquisite literary thriller will intrigue book clubs and rivet fans of historical fiction.” —A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

“A lush, evocative Gothic.” —The New York Times Book Review

This terrifically exciting novel will jolt, thrill, and bewitch readers.” —Booklist, starred review

Obsession is an art.

In this “sharp, scary, gorgeously evocative tale of love, art, and obsession” (Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train), a beautiful young woman aspires to be an artist, while a man’s dark obsession may destroy her world forever.

In 1850s London, the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and, among the crowd watching the dazzling spectacle, two people meet by happenstance. For Iris, an arrestingly attractive aspiring artist, it is a brief and forgettable moment but for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by all things strange and beautiful, the 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 beyond her wildest dreams—but she has no idea that evil is waiting in the shadows. Silas has only thought of one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day.

“A page-turning psychological thriller” (Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist) that will haunt you long after you finish it, The Doll Factory is perfect for fans of The Alienist, Drood, and The Historian.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982106768
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Publication date: 08/13/2019
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 55,220
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Born in Scotland, Elizabeth Macneal is a potter based in London, where she works from a small studio at the bottom of her garden. She read English Literature at Oxford University and completed the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia in 2017. In 2018, she won the Caledonia Novel Award for her debut novel, The Doll Factory.

Read an Excerpt

The Doll Factory

  • Silas is sitting at his desk, a stuffed turtle dove in his palm. The cellar is as still and quiet as a tomb, aside from the slow gusts of his breath that ruffle the bird’s plumage.

    Silas puckers his lips as he works and, in the lamplight, he is not unhandsome. He has retained a full head of hair in his thirty-eighth year, and it shows no sign of silvering. He looks around him, at the glass jars that line the walls, each labeled and filled with the bloated hulks of pickled specimens. Swollen lambs, snakes, lizards, and kittens press against the edges of their confinement.

    “Don’t wriggle free of me now, you little rascal,” he mutters, picking up the pliers and tightening the wire on the bird’s claws.

    He likes to talk to his creatures, to make up histories that have landed them on his slab. After considering many imagined scenarios for this dove—disrupting barges on the canal, nesting in a sail of The Odyssey—he has settled on one pretence he likes; and so he rebukes this companion often for its invented habit of attacking cress sellers. He releases his hold on the bird, and it sits stiffly on the wooden post.

    “There!” he exclaims, leaning back and pushing his hair out of his eyes. “And perhaps this’ll teach you a lesson for knocking that bunch of greens out of that little girl’s arms.”

    Silas is satisfied with this commission, especially given that he rushed the final stages to have it ready by the morning. He is sure the artist will find the bird to his liking; as requested, it is frozen as if in midflight, its wings forming a perfect “V.” What’s more, Silas has skimmed further profit by adding another dove heart to one of the yellowed jars. Little brown orbs float in preserving fluid, ready to fetch a good price from quacks and apothecaries.

    Silas tidies the workshop, wiping and straightening his tools. He is halfway up the ladder rungs, nudging the trapdoor with his shoulder as he cradles the dove, when the consumptive wheeze of the bell sounds below him.

    Albie, he hopes, as it is early enough, and he abandons the bird on a cabinet and hurries through the shop, wondering what the child will bring him. The boy’s recent hauls have been increasingly paltry—maggoty rats, aging cats with smashed skulls, even a half run-over pigeon with a stumpy claw. (“But if you knew, sir, how hard it is with the bone grubbers pinching the best of the trade—”) If Silas’s collection is to stand the test of time, he needs something truly exceptional to complete it. He thinks of the bakery nearby on the Strand, which made a poor living with its bulky wholemeal loaves, good only for doorstops. Then the baker, on the brink of debtors’ prison, started to pickle strawberries in sugar and sell them by the jar. It transformed the shop, made it famous even in tourist pamphlets of the city.

    The trouble is, Silas often thinks he has found his special, unique item, but then he finishes the work and finds himself hounded by doubts, by the ache for more. The pathologists and collectors he admires—men of learning and medicine like John Hunter and Astley Cooper—have no shortage of specimens. He has eavesdropped on the conversations of medical men, sat white with jealousy in drinking holes opposite University College London as they’ve discussed the morning’s dissections. He might lack their connections, but surely, surely, one day Albie will bring him something—his hand trembles—remarkable. Then, his name will be etched on a museum entrance, and all of his work, all of his toil, will be recognized. He imagines climbing the stone steps with Flick, his dearest childhood friend, and pausing as they see “Silas Reed” engraved in marble. She, unable to contain her pride, her palm resting in the small of his back. He, explaining that he built it all for her.

    But it is not Albie, and each knock and ring of the bell yields more disappointment. A maid calls on behalf of her mistress, who wants a stuffed hummingbird for her hat. A boy in a velvet jacket browses endlessly and finally buys a butterfly brooch, which Silas sells with a quiver of disdain. All the while, Silas moves only to place their coins in a dogskin purse. In the quiet between times, his thumb tracks a single sentence in The Lancet. “ ‘Tu-mor separ-at-ing the os-oss-ossa navi.’ ” The ringing of the bell and the raps on the door are the only beats of his life. Upstairs, an attic bedroom; downstairs his dark cellar.

    It is exasperating, Silas thinks as he stares around the pokey shop, that the dullest items are those that pay his rent. There is no accounting for the poor taste of the masses. Most of his customers will overlook the real marvels—the skull of a century-old lion, the fan made of a whale’s lung tissue; the taxidermy monkey in a bell jar—and head straight for the Lepidoptera cabinet at the back. It contains vermilion butterfly wings, which he traps between two small panes of glass; some are necklace baubles, others for mere display. Foolish knick-knacks that they could make themselves if they had the imagination, he thinks. It is only the painters and the apothecaries who pay for his real interests.

    And then, as the clock sings out the eleventh hour, he hears a light tapping, and the faint stutter of the bell in the cellar.

    He hurries to the door. It will be a silly child with only tuppence to spend, or if it is Albie, he’ll have another damned bat, a mangy dog good for nothing but a stew—and yet, Silas’s heart quickens.

    “Ah, Albie,” Silas says, opening the door and trying to keep his voice steady. Thames fog snakes in.

    The ten-year-old child grins back at him. (“Ten, I knows, sir, because I was born on the day the Queen married Albert.”) A single yellow tooth is planted in the middle of his upper gums like a gallows.

    “Got a fine fresh creature for you today,” Albie says.

    Silas glances down the dead-end alley, at its empty ramshackle houses like a row of drunks, each tottering further forward than the last.

    “Out with it, child,” he says, tweaking the boy under the chin to assert his superiority. “What is it, then? The foreleg of a Megalosaurus, or perhaps the head of a mermaid?”

    “A bit chilly for mermaids in Regent Canal at this time of year, sir, but that other creature—Mega-what-sumfink—says he’ll leave you a knee when he snuffs it.”

    “Kind of him.”

    Albie blows into his sleeve. “I got you a right jewel, which I won’t part with for less than two bob. But I’m warning you now, it ain’t red like you like ’em.”

    The boy unravels the cord of his sack. Silas’s eyes follow his fingers. A pocket of air escapes, gamey, sweet and putrid, and Silas raises a hand to his nose. He can never stand the smells of the dead; the shop is as clean as a chemist’s, and each day he battles the coal smoke, the fur-dust, and the stink. He would like to uncork the miniature glass bottle of lavender oil that he stores in his waistcoat, to dab it on his upper lip, but he does not want to distract the boy—Albie has the attention span of a shrew on his finest days.

    The boy winks, grappling with the sack, pretending it is alive.

    Silas summons a smirk that feels hollow on his lips. He hates to see this urchin, this bricky street brat, tease him. It makes him draw back into himself, to recall himself at Albie’s age, running heavy sacks of wet porcelain across the pottery yard, his arms aching from his mother’s fists. It makes him wonder if he’s ever truly left that life—even now he’ll let himself be taunted by a single-toothed imp.

    But Silas says nothing. He feigns a yawn, but watches through a sideways crocodile eye that betrays his interest by not blinking.

    Albie grins, and unmasks the sacking to present two dead puppies.

    At least, Silas thinks it is two puppies, but when he grabs hold of the limbs, he notices only one scruff. One neck. One head. The skull is segmented.

    Silas gasps, smiles. He runs his fingers along the seam of the crown to check it isn’t a trick. He wouldn’t put it past Albie to join two dogs with a needle and thread if it fetched him a few more pennies. He holds them up, sees their silhouette against his lamp, squeezes their eight legs, the stones of their vertebrae.

    “This is more like it, eh,” he breathes. “Oh, yes.”

    “Two bob for’t,” Albie says. “No less than that.”

    Silas laughs, pulls out his purse. “A shilling, that’s all. And you can come in, visit my workshop.” Albie shakes his head, steps farther into the alley, and looks around him. A look almost like fear passes over the boy’s face, but it soon vanishes when Silas tips the coin into his palm. Albie hawks and spits his disdain on to the cobbles.

    “A mere bob? Would you have a lad starve?”

    But Silas closes the door, and ignores the hammering that follows.

    He steadies himself on the cabinet. He glances down to check the pups are still there, and they are, clasped against his chest as a child would hold a doll. Their eight furred legs dangle, as soft as moles. They look like they did not even live to take their first breath.

    He has it at last. His pickled strawberry.

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Doll Factory includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    In 1850s London, the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park , and, among the crowd watching the dazzling spectacle, two people meet by happenstance. For Iris, an arrestingly attractive aspiring artist, it is a brief and forgettable moment, but for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by all things strange and beautiful, the 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 beyond her wildest dreams—but she has no idea that evil is waiting in the shadows. Silas has thought of only one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. When we think about obsession in the novel, Silas is most likely the first character who comes to mind. Yet many of the characters have something that drives them and that they obsess over. Think about who is obsessed with what. What do these obsessions have in common? Where lies the divide between healthy and harmful obsession?

    2. Charles Dickens, a contemporary of the Pre-Raphaelites, is mentioned by characters early on in the novel. What themes does THE DOLL FACTORY share with novels written by Dickens? What writing techniques does Elizabeth Macneal employ that are similar to those of Dickens?

    3. What are the different societal constraints our main characters work against to achieve their goals? Do any of these limits still exist in our era? Which ones seem to have stayed in Victorian times?

    4. Of all the imaginary pieces of art described in the book, which one would you most like to see? What about it interests you?

    5. Why does Iris feel such affection for Albie? Do you feel the same way about him?

    6. How are mastery and control expressed in the novel? How do these concepts differ from each other, and which characters exhibit them?

    7. How does the slow revelation of Silas’s true relationship to Flick affect the novel? At what point did you realize how dangerous Silas was? What details does Elizabeth Macneal give us early on to indicate that all is not what it seems with Silas?

    8. While the painting of Guigemar’s queen is the most prominent example, many of the paintings described mirror the characters’ experiences. Google a few of the paintings and see how they are reflected in the characters’ arcs.

    9. Do you sympathize with Rose? Does your opinion of her change throughout the novel?

    10. Courtly love is a medieval literary tradition in which a knight proved his love for a noble woman through a series of tests, and the knight and his intended lady are presented as idealized figures. It has been an influence upon many artistic movements and was a key interest of the Pre-Raphaelites. Reread page 156, where Louis explains why he is beginning to tire of it. In what ways does courtly love play out within the novel? Who upholds its ideals and who counters them? How do you see the ideals of courtly love reflected in discussions of relationships and gender in our own times?

    11. Women are consistently “captured” in the novel, whether literally or figuratively (Guigemar’s queen, Iris’s likeness in the painting, Flick and Iris by Silas, Rose by Mrs. Salter, even Guinevere the wombat). Discuss the various constraints put upon women in the novel and how they do or do not break free.

    12. Considering the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s dedication to truth (“taking truth to nature”—or representing the world accurately—was one of their tenets), what do you think of Louis’s omission about his wife and child? Do you think Iris’s reaction was fair?

    13. What did you make of Albie’s death? What were the narrative advantages of this?

    14. With its emphasis on freedom, medieval culture, and courtly love, and the name itself, is there a place for women in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood? To counter, consider how the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood also gave space to women, both in the novel and historically, to become artists and not just muses.

    15. What do you make of the review of Iris’s painting at the end of the novel? What does it imply about the lives of Iris, Louis, and Rose? Why do you think Iris included Albie in it? How does it tie in with the themes of the novel, particularly of objects and symbolism?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Research the history of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and its members. Choose one of their paintings described in THE DOLL FACTORY and give a report to your book group. Be sure to include its size, the materials used, any historical or mythological allusions in the work, qualities that make it pre-Raphaelite, and contemporary reactions to the artwork. Don’t forget to bring a photo to show everyone!

    2. Iris’s story can be compared to the Pygmalion myth, in which the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with one of his creations. Many writers have used this Greek myth in their work. One of the most famous works is George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. Have your book group read it, or watch the musical adaptation, My Fair Lady. Though THE DOLL FACTORY is set a few decades before Shaw wrote his play, there are many similarities in its exploration of class mobility and gender roles. Discuss how Iris is similar to Eliza Doolittle. How are Louis and Silas similar to Henry Higgins? In what ways do they differ? What other themes do you think both Shaw and Macneal explore?

    3. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was not made up only of visual artists, but also writers, and especially poets. Pick a Pre-Raphaelite poet, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti or his sister, Christina Rossetti, and analyze its language, themes, and symbols. As with the paintings you researched, what qualities make the poem pre-Raphaelite? Is there anything in it that reminds you of THE DOLL FACTORY?

    Customer Reviews

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    The Doll Factory: A Novel 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
    lhill82125 More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Philomath_in_Phila 10 days ago
    ‏I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book so I could give an honest review. The Doll Factory is the debut novel of Elizabeth Macneal. It is not a children's book. Before reading it, some reviewers thought it could be because of the cover. Afterward, they realized they were mistaken. It is a historical fiction novel set in 1850 London. It revolves around Iris, a doll maker, who dreams of a better life. Iris knows her life drastically changes when she meets Louis Frost, a painter, who agrees to teach her to paint in exchange for sitting as his model. What she does not know is it also drastically changes with a brief exchange with Silas, a strange collector who is entranced and quickly becomes obsessed with Iris. The story is a slow burn and took a while for me to really get into it. It was because of this, the story felt longer than 336 pages. Macneal's description of Silas's increasing obsession with Iris is creepy, dark, and extremely believable. What made it creepier is that Iris does not even remember meeting Silas. Yet, he believes Iris is as infatuated with him as he is with her. This theme has been done before but the 1850 London setting helps make the obsession even darker. This 200-word review was published on on 2/6/2020.
    MonicaA 4 months ago
    As you can tell by the fact it took me 3 months to finish this book, it definitely was not a favorite. The beginning was extremely slow and I sat it down many times. I think some of that is on me... I don’t usually read historical pieces but wanted to try something a little different. The story picked up by about 75% and I felt actively engaged. There was a strong plot twist that added excitement. Overall I would recommend to readers who don’t mind the slower pace. *Thanks to NetGalley and publishers for the advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
    toReadistoEscape 9 months ago
    I wanted to read this book because it was described as a page-turning psychological thriller. This one turned out to be unnecessarily dark and disturbing. The boy that collected money by bringing carcasses of dead animals to a taxidermist in order to buy false teeth for himself reminded me of the movie “Human Centipede”. The mutilation of animals for entertainment was just too morbid for my taste. I would not recommend this book. I received this galley from NetGalley.
    LouiseFoerster 11 months ago
    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. I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.
    TUDORQUEEN More than 1 year ago
    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, a twisted mind.
    SharoninAZ More than 1 year ago
    The Doll Factory takes us back to 1850 London and introduces the reader to a wide array of fascinating characters. At the center of the story are twin sisters Iris and Rose, who toil under the watchful eye of Mrs. Saulter painting china dolls. The beautiful Iris dreams of being an artist. When Iris meets pre-Raphaelite painter, Louis, she agrees to be his model in return for art lessons, thus escaping the oppressive doll store. Along the way, we also meet Silas, an incredibly creepy taxidermist, and Albie, a street urchin who sometimes collects dead animals for Silas. All of the characters are beautifully written and developed. Author Macneal deftly creates an atmospheric mid-century London that absorbs the reader. The storyline is strong, the characters are interesting, and the writing is stellar. Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me an advance copy in return for an honest review.
    JuliW More than 1 year ago
    So gothic! So darkly creepy-cool! I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The story is set in 1850s Victorian London. Iris and her twin sister Rose work at Mrs. Salter's Doll Factory. But Iris wants more... She isn't content with a life spent painting delicate porcelain dolls. Painting children's playthings or mourning dolls memorializing the dead isn't enough. Iris wants to be a professional artist. She meets two an artist who can help her fulfill her dream and another who will becoming completely obsessed with possessing her..... Wow.....this book is dark, creepy and unputdownable! Total binge read....I stayed up half the night reading because I had to know what happened! I love old Hollywood movies...especially the gothic style horror movies made in the 50s & 60s. This story reminded me so much of those movies -- like House of Wax (the 1953 version, not the horrible re-make), Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, etc. As I read, I imagined the movie version in my head. Silas would be played by Vincent Price, of course, and Peter Lorre as Louis. Made for a great reading experience! I could even imagine the dialogue spoken in those two actors' unmistakable voices. Loved it! Some portions of this story depict animal cruelty, mental illness and some disturbing imagery. Be prepared for it... Parental guidance suggested before allowing younger teens to read this book. Just be aware it has some adult subjects, violent/graphic imagery and some harsh topics -- stalking, murder, etc. The Doll Factory is Elizabeth Macneal's debut novel! I will definitely be looking for more from this new author! I see in the book blurb that the television rights have been sold to Buccaneer Media....will definitely be on the lookout for a film version (even if it can't have Price & Lorre!) **I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Atria books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. Warning: Book may cause sleep deprivation in lovers of gothic style horror. Enjoy! :)**
    jasminebookaddict More than 1 year ago
    Well written, suspenseful, dark and Victorian, a great example of a psychological thriller set in a time period that already evokes a feeling of gloom and doom. Macneal uses so many elements in the story that just scream horror novel, feelings of fear and disgust, a jolt of the macabre and an overall atmosphere of uneasiness and dread. But then she balances that out and gives the reader a sense of well being, by adding some lovely light moments that lead you to believe that maybe things will be better than they seem. The story has wonderfully fleshed out characters, and perfect plotting and pacing, with descriptive passages that put you right in Victorian London. The only thing that kept me from giving it full marks was the predictability of the plot. I wasn't sure exactly how it would end, but I was certain of how things would play out.
    SevenAcreBooks More than 1 year ago
    Elizabeth Macneal has given us a dark and twisting story of passion, greed, and obsession in The Doll Factory. Set in 1850’s London during the Great Exhibition, we follow a group of young artists as they endeavor to have their art displayed to the masses. Iris, young and longing for more in life, finds herself the center of Silas Reed’s obsession. A taxidermist by trade, Silas becomes fixated on imagined conversations with Iris and believes her to be as smitten with him as he is of her. Unaware of Silas’ unhealthy obsession, Iris is given the chance to further her artistic skills when she is asked to model for Louis Frost, an up and coming local artist. In return for becoming his model, Iris finds independence for the first time in her life and is allowed free reign of his studio and private painting lessons. As Iris and Louis become closer, Silas’ dark obsession threatens Iris and those around her. Fast paced and beautifully written, Elizabeth Macneal transports us to the darker side of London and provides an intimate look at the everyday people who are doing their best to survive. Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to read and review this title. All opinions are my own.
    Meemo_B More than 1 year ago
    Part thriller, part historical fiction, this is a story about love and obsession, told against the backdrop of The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. Much of the historical background is true, and many of the characters are actual historical figures. I found myself looking up quite a few names, not to mention wombats. Told from three points of view, the characters could've come straight from a Dickens novel. There's a wonderful sense of place and time created by Macneal's descriptions of the streets and homes of London. Backstories are revealed slowly, teasing the reader with just enough detail to keep us guessing as to just how twisted one of the characters really is. Alternately heartbreaking, horrifying, and hopeful, I very much enjoyed reading this one - it was an excellent debut novel, and I'll be very much interested in reading whatever Elizabeth Macneal comes out with next. My thanks to Netgalley and Atria Books for providing a copy for an unbiased review.
    SarkuraCherryBlossom More than 1 year ago
    Unfortunately I couldn't get into the story and I tried more then once to read it but I just couldn't do it so after reading the same 57 pages over and over I have decided to DNF it,with that said I want to thank Netgalley for letting me try it out to read and review exchange for my honest opinion.
    MJS77 More than 1 year ago
    The Doll Factory was such a mind trip to read. It was filled with all the trappings of a morbidly twisted and thrilling story. Iris is a shop girl, painting faces on dolls day in and day out. She dreams of a better life for her and her twin sister Rose but cannot fathom a way out of this life for them. Silas is a taxidermist and a collector of oddities and curiosities with a store that serves those with better fortune. Silas is introduced to Iris and thus begins his obsession with the girl with the crooked collar. Louis is an up and coming pre-Raphaelite artist and when he first glimpses Iris he just knows she must be his model and his Queenie. Iris agrees but on the condition he teaches he how to paint and better her skill in hopes to someday support herself and her sister. Little does the pair know that lurking in the shadows is a man whose obsession is steadily growing by the day and nothing and no one will get in his way to having his hearts desire: Iris. **Received ARC through NetGalley. Voluntarily reviewed**
    Sara_Jo More than 1 year ago
    I’m not entirely certain how I feel about this book! I enjoyed it, but it also gave me the creeps and grossed me out so I stopped reading for a few days before coming back to it. I feel like there was so much detail about Iris but I never understood her relationship to Louis and felt she gave in to him too quickly. Silas was an oddity that I thought would take up more of the book. And the ending... well I was disappointed. I didn’t feel much of a victory in it. Yet, I liked it. I was provided with an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
    Nanna51 More than 1 year ago
    This was a really dark book, with a scary story that progressed to what I would call a thriller and then a real horror story. The setting is Victorian London, so it is also historical in nature and the societal details are riveting. Iris and Rose are working for Ms. Salter, a laudanum-addicted older lady who is very demanding. Iris and Rose have the daily task of painting the faces of dolls. Iris dreams of being a real artist and her chance comes when she meets Louis Frost, an artist who wants her to pose for him in exchange for lessons. Almost at the same time, Iris encounters Silas, a taxidermist who is cruel and obsessed. This is where the book almost lost me because it falls quickly into the depths of the madness of Silas, a man so obsessed with having Iris for his own that he loses sight of reality. The animal cruelty in the book was very off-putting, so I had to just skim or skip those parts. As a debut novelist, the author does a good job of drawing the reader into the story. The book is well-written but very dark. I enjoyed reading the portrayal of life in Victorian England, especially the attitude towards women. All in all, this is not a book that I can give a ringing endorsement to as it was very dark and disturbing and not as entertaining as I had thought that it would be. Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
    Momma_Becky More than 1 year ago
    Set in Victorian London, The Doll Factory is well-written and Elizabeth Macneal knows her stuff when it comes to creating atmosphere. The story is dark and has a Gothic feel, which is fitting with the setting, and it has the potential to be the page-turning thriller promised in the blurb. However, it doesn't quite live up to that potential until the last twenty percent or so of the book. The pacing is quite slow and drawn out, and while I can appreciate atmosphere, there are some details I could've happily done without. I really didn't need to know the state of decomposing animals every single time one was mentioned. I know what happens when things decompose, and reading that description once was more than enough for me. The same can be said for taxidermy. After reading some of those descriptions once, the rest start to seem like filler and after a while, I started skimming those parts. As I said, things do pick up toward the end, but the rest could've done with some serious tightening up. I think this one boils down to just not the book for me, and someone who appreciates the more graphic descriptions would probably enjoy it more than I did. In the end, the book has its pros and its cons, which left me somewhere in the middle. I didn't hate it, but I didn't particularly like it either.
    Caroldaz More than 1 year ago
    The story started quite slowly, then picked up to become thrilling! Iris and her sister work for the laudanum addicted Mrs Salter, painting dolls. Iris wants to be an artist but her family do not approve. Iris meets Louis, who asks her to model for him. She agrees in exchange for him teaching her to paint. Eventually they fall in love. One day Iris by chance briefly meets Silas, a taxidermist. She thinks nothing of the meeting but Silas becomes obsessed and thinks only of possessing Iris. A dark but beautifully written story. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
    bookluvr35SL More than 1 year ago
    This book takes place in London in the 1850's, during the time the Great Exhibition was being held in Hyde Park. Iris, who worked with her sister Rose painting faces on porcelain dolls wanted to become a real artist. She catches the attention of Louis, who is a member of the PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), and he convinces her to quit her job and come be his muse in exchange enough money to get a room of her own and he would also give her art lessons. Iris also attracts the attention of Silas, who is a mentally unstable curiosities dealer. Silas becomes fixated on Iris and becomes determined to add her to his collection. I could not put this book down. It was fascinating. It was so well written I felt as if I was actually there. Towards the end of the book I was on the edge of my seat. I highly recommend this book!
    Alfoster More than 1 year ago
    Reminiscent of THE COLLECTOR and YOU, this novel is hypnotic, dark, brooding and oh so good! I was immediately sucked into the story as--even though I'm not usually a fan of Victorian fiction--the characters of Iris, Louis, Silas, and street urchin Albie were so well-drawn and interesting that I couldn't pull myself away. I know next to nothing about the world of art so this too was a fascinating draw for me. Iris is chosen by Louis to model as the Queen for his painting in exchange for her own art lessons. All appears to be well until Silas, the obsessive taxidermist focusses his attention on Iris and decides he must possess her after she rebuffs his advances. The prose is poignant and witty, the locations vividly drawn, and the dialogue captures the Victorian era so well you can picture it perfectly. This novel NEEDS to be made into a movie! Macneal has managed to address history, art, love and obsession, all the while painting the picture of the disparities and inequalities of the Victorian era as well as Iris's desire to overcome the male-dominant perceptions and become a woman worthy of attention for her own talents and desires. Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!
    Dogs-love2read2 More than 1 year ago
    The Doll Factory started slowly and I wasn't sure where it was going at first. I was interested after a couple chapters. The more I read about the twin sisters Rose and Iris, the more immersed I became in the story. The twins sit together painting features on dolls all day. The time is mid eighteen hundreds, not an easy time for a woman with ambitions or emotions. This story has plenty of both and for added excitement there's obsession thrown into the mix. By this time the story is exciting and heartbreaking. This is a well written tale with great characters. I'm still thinking about the outcome hours after I finished the book. I received an Advanced Readers Copy from Atria Books through NetGalley. The opinions expressed are entirely my own. #TheDollFactory #NetGalley
    Persephonereads More than 1 year ago
    5 out of 5 stars Thank you to Netgalley and Atria Books for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a wonderful Gothic historical fiction that will reel you into this beautiful, chilling world. Set in London 1850, The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and all of London is excited! Twin sisters Iris and Rose spend much of their time working, They paint and dress expensive China dolls for Mrs. Salter, their laudanum addicted mistress. Life is rather bleak for the sisters but then Iris meets Louis Frost a fantastic painter and she agrees to pose for him in exchange for painting lessons. Iris desperately wants to be a painter but as a woman she is nit taken seriously. She is a pretty girl, an object for men to gaze at. Iris then meets Silas, a taxidermist who becomes obsessed with Iris and will do anything to make her his. As the story goes on and Silas' obsession grows the book becomes darker and darker. This was a richly written story of obsession and desire with the backdrop of Gothic London.
    Linda romer More than 1 year ago
    I liked The Doll Factory, it was a good read. A bit creepy and gross at times but the story was good and I found the characters true to this time period. This Psychological thriller set in the Victorian era will leave you feeling a bit disturbed by the character Silas Reed who is the proprietor of his shop called Silas Reed's shop of Curiosities Antique and New. Iris and Rose who are twin sisters will peak your interest. I liked the Artist's rendering and the ending of the story. #TheDollFactory #NetGalley
    Annette5151 More than 1 year ago
    A well written story that gets darker as it goes on. It was a little creepy towards the end and I really expected a different ending. Thanks for the early copy
    dlvandruff More than 1 year ago
    Iris and Rose are twins. They may look alike but have very different personalities. Iris" greatest desire is to become a painter an artist. When she is invited to become a model for Louis in exchange for painting lessons, she is excited. Silas is an artist of a different sort. One could call his art macabre. He poses dead animals. He stuffs them and sets them up doing different things. He also collects and preserves specimens of all kinds in glass bottles. When Silas sees Iris he is enthralled with her twisted collarbone. This speaks to him in a way that nothing has before. He becomes obsessed with owning her. She is different, unique, so he must have her. What entails is a twisted story of obsession, torture, love, sadness and strength. Phenomenal read!!
    harlichic More than 1 year ago
    To be truthful, I had a hard time getting into this story, nearly giving it up. But…I'm extremely glad that I pushed on. The scenes were pretty vivid, I had no trouble visualizing where I was…just everything had a dark tint to it. I guess that's called Noir. The characters were fully fleshed out and mostly likeable, except for a couple who weren't. The book was excellently errors that I could find and it had a nice flow to it (once you got past the beginning). I loved the ending, how it was all chaos all of a sudden and you just knew that something bad was going to happen....and then it was over. No real explanations as to what happened, which I think I really liked since the book was rather long anyway. Just the ending, in the last chapter, in the future. Very satisfying.