Latest Reads: The Doll Factory 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 . . .

The Doll Factory was an immersive, authentic read with an undertone of darkness and a great Historical setting that you just sink into.

It is a pacy read that is part historical drama and part thriller – it has a slow burn start that immediately engages you with this small group of humanity all living around the build up to the Great Exhibition. It is a novel about art and creativity, but also a story of love and obsession, of wanting to escape the bounds of your social standing, about hopes and dreams…

Iris wants to be an artist, she is judged harshly by her family, but when she is asked to become a model for Louis Frost suddenly life takes a turn for the better. However hovering in the background is the strange and menacing Silas – who in one moment of time has singled out Iris for his particular attention..

This novel, despite it’s fairly gentle start, is immediately gripping and vaguely unnerving. Iris, painting in the cellar trying to avoid discovery, Albie, a boy who only wants new teeth, Silas, whose shop of curiosities is the go to for artists of the time, Rose, sister of Iris who suffered a terrible childhood illness and Louis Frost – pre Raphaelite artist and part of a group of like minded friends. We follow this eclectic group and their interactions, meanwhile under the surface there is a feeling of doom, of something dark approaching, which when it comes will leave you breathless…

I loved this because it was different, strangely charming and the author gets over the sense of the time brilliantly. The setting pops and the intricate layers of the story are cleverly woven. I enjoyed the art theme very much, not overdone but set within the character drama unfolding. Descriptively it is beautiful, plus the two halves work so well with the first half being more historical fiction than thriller but then throwing you into an ending that is brutally realistic and heart stopping.

Overall a really excellent debut. Highly Recommended.

You can purchase The Doll Factory (Picador) here.

Happy Reading!

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