Review - The Doll Factory - Elizabeth Macneal.
Two sisters Iris and Rose work together making dolls. It is the mid 19th century and whilst nearby the great exhibition is being planned, their days are long and repetitive, working for a hard taskmistress the girls dream of escaping to a more congenial life, Rose wants her own genteel little shop and Iris dreams of learning to paint. But both girls bear the scars of living in an era where medical care wasn't great. Rose has lost her beauty to the scarring of smallpox whilst Iris has a hunched shoulder, due to a break in her collarbone at birth.and both girls fear no man will even look at them now.
Iris's beauty, however, attracts the attention of two very different men. She is approached by artist Louis Frost, a member of the burgeoning pre Raphaelite brotherhood who begs her to model for his painting for which she barters art lessons in return.
Whilst in the shadows of the grimiest rookeries of old London, lurks lonely Silas, a taxidermist who admires Iris from afar and whilst his shyness prevents him voicing his admiration for her, he remains on the periphery of her world fantasising about when they eventually meet, sure she will eventually love him as he adores her.
As we move between the courts and shops of Victorian London, we glimpse everyday life at its most brutal the descriptions are superb and I felt as though I was one step behind Iris throughout her journey. The reader meets several wonderful characters and young Albie, a street urchin who longs only for some false teeth to replace the one worn stump of a tooth which is all that remains of his gnashers, earned a place in my heart.
As Iris begins to shake off her shackles, Rose remains in the doll factory, modelling tiny faces and fitting miniature gowns to dolls for rich little girls. Iris grows further apart from her sister and whilst she does begin to feel love for one of the men in her life, in the other, builds an unhealthy obsession.
As she falls in love, she also becomes the object of a dangerous obsession.
This is a wonderfully atmospheric historical novel, woven around a world of art and creativity with lots of details about pre-raphaelite artists, and a tense thriller and mystery which will have you on the edge of your seat. Its a creeper, beginning slowly until you are immersed in it ad it just won't let go. I loved it and feel the characters will stay with me for a long time.
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