The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Elizabeth Macneal's debut novel is a well-crafted historical novel whose pages flirt with darkness and obsession

Book Review by Beth Cochrane | 28 Apr 2019
  • The Doll Factory
Book title: The Doll Factory
Author: Elizabeth Macneil

Debut author Elizabeth Macneal, winner of the Caledonia Novel Award 2018 and one of the ‘hottest-tipped’ authors in the Observer’s annual showcase, has written what is suspected to be one of 2019’s literary highlights. The definition of a page-turner, The Doll Factory is a charming read whose pages flirt with darkness and obsession. At its heart, the story is a simply woven parable teaching female empowerment and freedom, whether it’s freedom from poverty, freedom to love, or the freedom of choice.

Macneal’s passion for all things Pre-Raphaelite is visible throughout, highlighting at once its romanticism, its early vulnerability and its flaws. As the novel is yet another addition to the ever-growing canon of neo-Victorian novels, its focus on Pre-Raphaelitism is a welcome digression from the genre.

The novel is arguably a little predictable. The artists in the text often discuss the myth of Guigemar and his imprisoned Queen, and it’s apparent early on that this tale will be analogous to The Doll Factory’s own protagonist’s story. While this is potentially hampering to the suspense of the novel, the author’s craftsmanship often wins back the reader’s attention. Altogether, The Doll Factory is a well-crafted and relevant historical novel whose vibrant characters lead the reader to become wholly absorbed in its story. [Beth Cochrane]

Picador, 2 May, £12.99