Book:

THE DOLL FACTORY

Elizabeth Macneal

London, 1850. As the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park, two people meet among the crowd watching the spectacle. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by the strange and beautiful, the 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, and suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since that meeting, and his obsession is darkening.

The Doll Factory is a tale of curiosity, love and possession.  It brings to life the squalor, ambition and sweeping vision of 1851 London, a radical year of art and ambition that would change Britain and the lives within it forever.  Central to the book is the theme of female empowerment. As a young woman, Iris’s dreams are constrained by society, but she is compelled forward by a dogged resilience and a tenacious desire to become the person she knows she is.

 

Reviews:

I’ve missed subway stops to finish a book, but this is the first time I almost missed a plane. The final chapters of Elizabeth Macneal’s delightfully creepy novel kept me screwed to my office chair as my wife sent irritated texts from the airport. What more could one want from a Victorian thriller? But Macneal delivers even more. The Doll Factory which is already a hit in England, offers an eerily lifelike re-creation of 1850s London laced with a smart feminist critique of Western aesthetics. It’s a perfect blend of froth and substance, a guilty pleasure wrapped around a provocative history lesson... All this gothic horror is drawn in deliciously lurid tones, but what’s even more satisfying is how effectively Macneal integrates the disparate elements of her story. Having escaped the doll shop to model for the Pre-Raphaelites, Iris discovers that she has exchanged painting dolls for being one. For all their progressive ideals about sexual freedom, these young artists seem determined to keep imagining beautiful women imprisoned, drowned and immobilized in their paintings. They offer, in a sense, only a more elegant presentation of the stuffed and mounted animals that Silas sells. Whether Iris can find the courage and the language to critique the Pre-Raphaelites’ work provides the novel with an unusual element of intellectual suspense. But what Iris experiences with her admiring taxidermist seems to arise from a much earlier artist: Hieronymus Bosch. And that story is one hell of a trip.

The Washington Post
The Washington Post

There is hardly an aspect of Victorian London that [Macneal] has not mastered.

New York Times, Book Review
New York Times , Book Review

With most of the book’s weight in my left hand, I wanted to be able to read faster, not so it was finished but so I could reach the end. Macneal makes is so Iris’ fate is uncertain until almost the last page and, given the darkness of the whole, no easy presumptions can be made. But I knew I was making my way through the final pages of a memorable book.

Alasdair McKillop, The Herald
Alasdair McKillop , The Herald

Elizabeth Macneal paints a masterpiece with her vivid descriptions, and the conclusion will have you racing to the end.

Woman's Weekly
Woman's Weekly

A deliciously gothic concoction that abounds with energy and imagination, conjuring up 1850s London life in all its Dickensian glory. Macneal marries art, obsession and possession in a plot that gains momentum and leaves the reader breathless.

Daily Mail
Daily Mail

a brilliant literary thriller that you won’t want to put down

Surrey Life
Surrey Life

Authentic and suspenseful

Woman & Home
Woman & Home

a dark delight

Red
Red

Ever since the success of Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, there’s been no shortage of good modern gothic novels. The Doll Factory might just be the best yet.

Reader's Digest
Reader's Digest

Compelling and Chilling

The i
The i

Elizabeth Macneal paints a vivid picture of everywhere from The Great Exhibition to the grimy backstreets of London… This is a satisfying read for fans of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and Jessie Burton’s The Minaturist

Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News

Who could resist a story of “art, obsession and possession” beginning in London in 1850s as the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park is being prepared, and offering an agreeable mixture of glamour and squalor, inviting – and receiving – the adjective “Dickensian”?

Alan Massie, The Scotsman
Alan Massie , The Scotsman

Elizabeth Macneal’s debut does feel genuinely Dickensian… Macneal charts her heroine’s quest to escape her confinements, metaphorical and actual, by the men who admire her in a story full of life, colour and intelligence

The Times
The Times

Fantastic - vivid, poignant, colourful, and elegantly horrifying.

Bridget Collins, author of The Binding
Bridget Collins , author of The Binding

This brilliant literary thriller gripped me from the opening page and didn’t relinquish its hold until I’d read the final sentence. The Doll Factory conjures 1850s London in all its grime and glory, possibility and restriction in absorbing, immersive detail. Elizabeth Macneal has created that rare thing: a beautifully researched historical novel with a plot to stop your heart. If this is her first book, I can barely wait to see what she writes next.

Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites and The Good People
Hannah Kent , author of Burial Rites and The Good People

Stunningly confident first novel with real sense of period and place, plus storytelling chops.

Ian Rankin, author of the Rebus books
Ian Rankin , author of the Rebus books

I loved The Doll Factory from the very first page and couldn’t do anything else until I’d read right to the end. An exquisite novel of obsession, delusion, resilience and love, Elizabeth Macneal really is a breathtaking new talent.

AJ Pearce, author of Dear Mrs Bird
AJ Pearce , author of Dear Mrs Bird

With strong echoes of John Fowles’ The Collector, The Doll Factory is at once a vivid depiction of a morally dubious world, and a page-turning psychological thriller, with a truly compelling villain in the character of Silas.

Essie Fox, author Elijah's Mermaid
Essie Fox , author Elijah's Mermaid

A sharp, scary, gorgeously evocative tale of love, art and obsession.

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins , author of The Girl on the Train

A stunning novel that twines together power, art, and obsession. At every turn expectations are confounded - it’s a historical novel and yet feels incredibly relevant and timely. I loved its warmth, it’s wry humour, and the way each small thread leads into an unbearably tense and chilling denouement that had me totally gripped.

Sophie Mackintosh, author of The Water Cure
Sophie Mackintosh , author of The Water Cure

The Doll Factory is engrossing and atmospheric. Fascinating real historical background (the Pre-Raphaelites) and super invented characters. I can practically see the TV version!

Adele Geras, author of The Ballet Class
Adele Geras , author of The Ballet Class

The Doll Factory is a gripping, artfully written historical novel with a highly contemporary sensibility. The setting - 19th century London full of pomp, grime and menace - plays just one part in an immersive and intellectually satisfying narrative that interrogates gender politics, classism, relationships, artistic obsession and erotomania with a painterly eye and gleefully dark heart. Part love story, part gothic novel and leading up to a truly breathless conclusion - this book is destined to be one of the biggest titles of 2019, deservedly so.

Sharlene Teo, author of Ponti
Sharlene Teo , author of Ponti

An astonishingly good debut. The Doll Factory reminded me of The Crimson Petal and the White, Fingersmith and Vanity Fair but had a richness of tone that was uniquely its own. Macneal writes with utter mastery, creating a lushly intricate world peopled by living, breathing characters you can’t help but fall in love with and a plot that rattles like a speeding carriage to its thrilling conclusion. I couldn’t put it down. You won’t be able to either.

Elizabeth Day, author of The Party
Elizabeth Day , author of The Party

One of the most heart-stopping, gripping books I have ever read.

Sophie Jonathan, Senior commissioning editor at Picador
Sophie Jonathan , Senior commissioning editor at Picador

Genre

Historical fiction

UK Publication

Picador, May 2019

US Publication

Simon & Schuster / Emily Bestler Books, August 2019

Rights Sales

UK & Commonwealth: Picador / Macmillan
US: Simon & Schuster / Emily Bestler Books
Canadian: Simon & Schuster Canada
TV: Buccaneer Media
Bulgarian: Colibri
Chinese (Complex): Marco Polo
Croat: Stilus
Czech: Albatros Media
Danish: Lindhardt og Ringhoff
Dutch: The House Of Books
Estonian: Pegasus
French: Presses de la Cite
German: Eichborn / Luebbe
Greek: Psichogios
Hebrew: Kinneret
Hungarian: Geopen
Italian: Einaudi
Latvian: Zvaigzne
Lithuanian: Alma Littera
Polish: GW Foksal
Portuguese (EU): Topseller
Romanian: ART Publishing House
Russian: Exmo
Serbian: Laguna
Slovak: Albatros
Slovenian: Ucila
Spanish: Ediciones B
Swedish: Bokforlaget Forum
Taiwan: Marco Polo Press / Cite Publishing
Turkish: Pena Yayinlari
Ukrainian: FLC / Hemiro