Review: The Doll Factory – Elizabeth Macneal

My rating 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Iris is desperate to leave her job as a dollmaker, desperate for life filled with happiness and excitement. She meets Louis, a painter who yearns to have his work displayed in the Royal Academy. Iris agrees to be his model on the condition that he teaches her to paint. Iris throws herself into her new life filled with freedom, completely unaware of Silas, who finds that he cannot forget their brief meeting. As Silas’s obsession with Iris grows it can only be a matter of time before they meet again…

My thoughts

It has been a while since I have posted a review and this is because it actually took me a long time to read the Doll Factory. It is only 372 (ish) pages and yet I was taking a long time to read it. This could have been due to many things but with the U.K. beginning to open up I have also been socialising more and therefore had less time to read. However, even with other distractions this did take me an unusually long time to read but I honestly loved it.

The novel is mainly written from three third person perspectives, Iris, Albie and Silas. I really sympathised with Iris and understood her need for freedom, she was a vibrant character which I was really pleased about. She wanted more out of her life and had such a yearning to live a more extraordinary life that at the start you couldn’t help but feel trapped with her. Albie was like a character straight out of a Dickens novel, the street urchin bargaining his way to a new set of teeth. Silas at the start appears to be an odd man that runs a shop centring mostly on the works he makes out of dead creatures. There is a dangerous air about his character yet I almost felt sorry for him at the start.

I think that Silas ended up being my favourite character throughout the whole novel. I never liked him but his complex nature made him so much of a puzzle that I was desperate for his narrative. The nature of Silas’s relationship with his previous love is so skilfully unravelled that you do not realise how much of a danger his is until it is too late.

The characters were all expertly woven together, all interacting yet not being close, with Albie being the tie between Iris and Silas. I read that Elizabeth Macneal only decided to add Albie as a character part-way through writing the novel. This surprised me as I found him such an important character that I couldn’t image the novel without him.

The novel is set in 1850 and I loved being transported back in time. The descriptions in the novel are magical and vivid. This novel conjured up London in all of its Victorian glory with the characters to match.

In my copy of the novel there are book group questions and I read one about women being captured in the novel and I thought that was an interesting dimension to the novel. It may have been a nod to the time in which the novel was set as women could never truly be free. There is a definite motif of women being trapped throughout the novel, trapped in paintings, in poems, in Silas’s “creations”. It felt important to me that Iris did manage to break free and although it wasn’t mentioned in my head found freedom and peace.

I finished the novel wanting more. It is a gorgeous novel focusing on art and the line between love and obsession. I would recommend this novel to anyone, not just to those that are a fan of historical fiction. Categorising this as just historical fiction seems slightly unfair as there are so many different elements to this book, parts of psychological thriller, parts of romance. Overall it is a very well crafted novel with sharp characters and a plot that will take you on a ride through Victorian London.


  1. This was my favourite book of 2019. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres & yet I had not read anything quite like this book!

    Liked by 1 person

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