‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth MacNeal – A Dickensian Thriller


‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth MacNeal    (2020) – 358 pages

Why do I use the adjective “Dickensian” to describe ‘The Doll Factory’?

In short direct sentences, Elizabeth MacNeal captures that dark yet lively atmosphere of early Victorian London circa 1851. That year was the opening of the Great Exhibition for which the huge Crystal Palace was built. The Great Exhibition was the first World Fair and foresaw many advancements to daily life. However most of the city people in London still lived in grinding poverty, and even the children had squalid working conditions.

Let’s take a brief look at the main characters in ‘The Doll Factory’.

The twins Rose and Iris Whittle work at Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium painting dolls for up to 12 hours a day. For young women in London without family money at this time there are really only three choices, either get married or work in a hellhole of a job or become a prostitute.

Albie is a fifteen year old street urchin; he earns the money to survive by doing disagreeable tasks for others; his sister works as an underage prostitute.

Not everyone in this thriller is poor. Louis Frost is so sufficiently well-to-do that he can devote his time to his career as an artist and a member of the Pre-Raphaelite artistic circle. Louis has a pet wombat named Guinevere.

Silas Reed is the proprietor of his own shop, Silas Reed’s House of Curiosities Antique and New. His avocation is taxidermy.

‘The Doll Factory’ is well imagined, and all the vivid details make this story come strikingly alive. It starts out rollicking and jaunty just like a Charles Dickens novel yet with ominous forebodings. As befits a female author Elizabeth MacNeal takes a more feminine view of the proceedings than Dickens.

‘The Doll Factory’ is a novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat.


Grade:    A



4 responses to this post.

  1. I enjoyed this one too! A really entertaining tale, but surprisingly dark.



  2. I saw this so many times at the book shop but wasn’t sure I would like it. Now that I read your review I’m pretty sure I would. If find historical novels work better than most other genres for me these days.

    Liked by 1 person


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