I am quietly frankly obsessed with historical fiction, they sweep me up in a way that present books can never do. I always feel transported to the time and leave my current stress completely behind. The Doll Factory did not disappoint in these regards. Set in 1850s London – the dirt, the smells and the atmosphere of it all comes alive on these pages. I was utterly enthralled.
The two key characters in this story are Iris and Silas. Iris is a young lady who dreams of a life outside the day to day rigour of making dolls in a shop with her sister. Silas is a taxidermist who is desperate for his work to be recognised.
Now I’m going to make a warning to you all, if dead animals upset you, you’re going to struggle to read the scenes where Silas performs his work. I found the first scene on it quite a shock, and whilst I was never comfortable reading of it throughout, I did manage to look past it and also appreciate that in this era, taxidermy was extremely popular.
When Silas meets Iris, he is infatuated by her, he now begins to imagine conversations between them and his obsession means he’s blind to the truth – Iris doesn’t care for him and frankly forgets who he is after their encounter.
Louis seems to be the answer to Iris’ prayers as he whisks her away from the doll shop and opens up a world of possibility to her. She can finally be an artist! She’s finally got her own room! She can breathe!
Even with the happiness that the change has brought, it’s understandable that it brings along sadness too, as people are ruffled by the changes. In fact, Iris fears that she’s lost her twin sister; Rose, forever. Can she make her sister see past her bitterness?
With Iris focussed on her art work, her despair over her estranged twin and her ongoing friendship with Louis, she’s oblivious to the darkness building within Silas as his obsession turns dangerous…
This is a masterfully plotted book, no doubt about it! Macneal creates that instant spellbinding bond with the reader from the get-go and transports you to the era, the pages are alive with the sounds, the smells and the buildings of the times… it makes you feel like you’re observing it all from your window rather than reading a fictional tale.
With Iris having finished her masterpiece in the final pages, it felt like a wonderful parallel to the real world as I looked back on the masterpiece that Macneal had given us readers.
The Doll Factory is out now in hardback and eBook versions from Picador.
Until next time, Chloé x