Elizabeth Macneal

Elizabeth Macneal was born in Scotland and now lives in East London. She is a writer and potter and works from a small studio at the bottom of her garden. The Doll Factory, Elizabeth’s debut novel, was a Sunday Times bestseller, has been translated into twenty-nine languages and has been optioned for a major television series. It won the Caledonia Novel Award in 2018.  

One of The Observers “hottest-tipped debut novelists of 2019”.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrey Life

Authentic and suspenseful

Woman & Home

a dark delight


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

Compelling and Chilling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophie Jonathan
Senior commissioning editor at Picador

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