I bought The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal last summer, but then didn’t get round to reading it. There was something about the cover which didn’t appeal (yes, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover) and there was always another book or two which I was more excited to read. I would never have bought it at all if it wasn’t for the recommendation of fellow book blogger Carole from Carole Finds Her Wings. Carole and I have completely different taste in books, with a very small crossover in the middle. But when she told me I would enjoy The Doll Factory, I completely trusted her on that. (I’ve trusted her advice on suitable YA books for my daughter too.)
The Doll Factory is an incredibly atmospheric novel set in Victorian London, against the backdrop of the Great Exhibition. It is a slightly stylised version of the setting I recognise from both The Five and The Confessions of Frannie Langton, not to mention Clover Moon and Rose Rivers by Jacqueline Wilson.
Iris and her twin sister Rose work in a doll shop, painting dolls. They live in the shop too, owned by the hateful Mrs Salter. When Iris gets the chance to be a model for a painter, Louis, it is a big decision. Louis wants to have his work displayed at the Royal Academy and promises Iris he will teach her to paint. Being a model is seen as little better than being a prostitute, but it spells freedom and a new life away from Mrs Salter. It also means leaving Rose behind and being disowned by her parents.
Iris takes the plunge and heads off for an exciting life as an artist’s model.
Silas is a taxidermist and a collector of the weird and the wonderful. He sells his stuffed creatures to artists, including Louis, to use in their paintings. He is captivated by Iris and is sure she would love him too. He is sure she isn’t interested in Louis and he just needs to persuade her of the better life she could have him.
The more freedom Iris has, the greater Silas’s obsession grows…
This is a dark and exciting novel with some very interesting characters, particularly street urchin, Albie. I suspect it won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are interested in Victorian times or you like your reading to be dark and gothic, I would definitely recommend it. I really enjoyed The Doll Factory and I definitely shouldn’t have waited nearly a year to read it!