Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Doll Factory

Title:  The Doll Factory
Author:  Elizabeth Macneal
Publication Information:  Atria/Emily Bestler Books. 2019. 368 pages.
ISBN:  198210676X / 978-1982106768

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Silas is sitting at his desk, a stuffed turtle dove in his palm."

Favorite Quote:  "She has always been taught to button her passions, not to shout, to respect the opinions of men. Her emotions have always simmered more than they should, and now they boil over. She could suffocate in her anger."

The Doll Factory is a book about obsession. It is about the 1850s London exhibition. It is about twins. One is born beautiful, but, to her mind, finds her beauty destroyed by illness. The other is born with a birth anomaly but learns to see the beauty in herself. It is about an artists who helps a woman recognize her beauty. It is about a collector of oddities who creates an obsession from a chance meeting.

The book is atmospheric and dark. Unfortunately, aspects of it are just sad and unpleasant - a young child killed in an accident, mice killed and stuffed, a two-headed dog, a child whose business is collecting dead things and who is saving for a set of teeth, another child briefly mentioned who is a prostitute, and murder. For some of these reasons, I am not the reader for this book. I appreciate the history. I can even appreciate the Gothic darkness. Graphic depictions of violence, however, are just not for me.

Beyond a point, the book is also a very slow read. Iris is finding her independence. Iris's sister is wallowing is self-pity and resentment. Louis the artist is falling in love but dealing with baggage of his own. The obsession of Silas the collector is growing day by day. These facts are established early on. The characters and the plot line seem to repeat throughout the book until close to the end when Silas's obsession finally translates into action. Even the "action" beyond that point seems to repeat onto the ultimate ending.

Interestingly, the "action" when it comes is reminiscent of a typically abduction and escape thriller. With the 1850s setting, with the connection to the art world, and with the dark setup of an obsessive evil villain who likes to kill and stuff his prizes, I expect something a little more unusual. I appreciate the fact of a woman finding her voice and finding her courage. However, given the buildup, I expect a  more unexpected twist and definitely one more macabre and suited to the atmosphere of the book. What set ups as a Victorian, Gothic thriller ends up in a much more modern ending.

Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the book for me was learning about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), a group of English artists who considered themselves as rebels to and reformers of what was considered "good" art. That is not the focus of the book, but there are enough glimmers to send me on the search for the history. In that the book accomplishes its goal as historical fiction.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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