THE DOLL FACTORY - by Elizabeth Macneal

Published: May 2019 - Picador. 
Genres: Adult / romance / thriller / Gothic / historical fiction.    
Pages: 370.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Violence / explicit sexual content / abuse / animal abuse. 
Format: Hardcover. 
Source: Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.

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

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

I wanted to read this book because of the hype surrounding its release. The reviews were all positive, and the rights for a TV series had already been sold.

The writing is extremely evocative, with incisive details and lavish descriptions. Unfortunately, I found it excessive - the characters and story end up getting lost in all the colour and frills. The writing is just too colourful, overwrought, and flowery that I was distracted from the heart and themes of the novel. It's a garish mess of prose. I couldn't appreciate it.

However, if you enjoy flowery writing, then I'm convinced you'll fall in love with this book. It just wasn't my taste.

The story unfolds in Victorian London with a fully realised and meticulously researched setting. The atmosphere is tangible. It's immersive, concrete, and rich with historical flavour. It's very Gothic, very eerie, very unsettling. The author does a terrific job - I felt transported. 

  It is all beautiful, all hers. The peace of a stilled moment. She thinks there is nothing left within her.
And yet. And yet, she stumbles forward.  

I didn't enjoy the story. There's nothing nice about it, it left me with a dirty feeling, and it's vulgar and unsettling more than it's satisfying or entertaining. The world is cruel, women are treated terribly, there are plenty of gruesome descriptions, and while I'm sure the rotten nature of the characters and their environment is realistic, it's also not enjoyable to read about. To make it worse, the book is extremely slow. It took a long time for things to get exciting, and even then I was never completely invested. The structure is formulaic. The incidents are predictable, and rather one-dimensional. There are no twists or huge shocks, either.

I also didn't like the abrupt ending. I wanted more closure, and I wanted to see a proper reunion between Iris and her friends; not to mention Iris actually processing what had happened to her. I would've liked to see what happened after her traumatic ordeal.

The characters take up stereotypical roles. Rose is the only one I found compelling, and that's because her character wasn't predictable. Louis is the romantic hero, Silas is the creepy stalker with a tortured past, Iris is the idealistic young maiden who wants a better life, and none of them got substantial depth or development. I didn't find them exciting or compelling, either.

The Doll Factory is an evocative historical thriller interspersed with romance and creeping with foreboding. Unfortunately, I didn't connect to the characters, and I found the purple prose distracting. 

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