I am absolutely thrilled that my novel The Doll Factory will be published in the UK by Picador on 2nd May 2019, and by Simon and Schuster in the US on 3rd September 2019, and will be translated into 28 languages. It is set in 1850s London, and it’s about painting, collecting, love, obsession and possession. I crammed it full of all of the things which interest me: there are wombats and destroyed paintings, a doll-making shop presided over by a laudanum addict, a Pre-Raphaelite artist’s studio lined with peacock feathers, a curiosity shop stuffed with the strangest of creatures, and the greatest exhibition London had ever seen. I really hope that you enjoy it. It won the Caledonia Novel Award 2018 and film and TV rights have sold to Buccaneer Media. It also has the most ridiculously beautiful cover, a photograph of a real bell jar crammed full of illustrated objects from my novel, as well as handmade paper flowers and a lithograph of an 1850s cityscape of London.
Every time I see the cover, I notice new things: the dove flying through a picture frame, the skull of a ram, the Pre-Raphaelite Journal The Germ, the peacock feathers, the spool of thread, the real doll… And the bell jar itself, carrying hints of display, of museums, of collecting, of stilled movement, of entrapment, of mirroring, of distortion, of history…
The Doll Factory is the intoxicating story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist, and the man whose obsession may destroy her world for ever.
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 have always been fascinated by the life of Lizzie Siddal. Her tragic end moved me - a suspected overdose of laudanum, with Rossetti exhuming her years later to retrieve the only copy of the poems he had buried with her - but I was also interested in her first years as a model and artist. How would it feel to be plucked from the obscurity of a milliner’s shop, to be transported into a bohemian world of precocious and talented young artists, to be a muse and model while also yearning to become an artist, to fall in love with Rossetti and to learn to paint from him?
Ten years ago, I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on clutter in 1850s literature, and I was struck by the ambition of London - its Great Exhibition, the move towards mass manufacture, the construction of factories, and an emphasis on productivity and invention. And set against this, the rise of a group of artists prizing craft beyond all else, and a collector of curiosities who longs to have a museum named after him, who makes the obscure and morbid curiosities which the artists include in their paintings. Who made, even, the mouse in the corner of Millais’s Mariana.
And that’s when I started writing about Iris and Silas and Albie, and what it meant to yearn, to desire, to be part of this bustling ambitious city.
Some writers I admire have said some lovely things about my novel:
A sharp, scary, gorgeously evocative tale of love, art and obsession (Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train)
A stunningly confident first novel with a real sense of period and place . . . thoroughly engrossing (Ian Rankin)
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 inabsorbing, 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)
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)
The Doll Factory is brilliant, with a refreshingly original quality, beautifully orchestrated narrative, great characters and some fascinating background detail (Andrew Taylor, No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling author of The Ashes of London and The American Boy)
The Doll Factory is one of the best books I’ve read in ages – heartbreaking and evocative. Elizabeth Macneal draws a vivid picture of life in 1850s London, exploring the world of the pre-Raphaelites and examining the position of women through her unforgettable heroine. At the same time, Elizabeth creates a perfectly structured and page-turning story of love and passion; crime and obsession. A wonderful and intense novel. I loved it. (Jenny Quintana, author of The Missing Girl)
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 (Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist)
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, Man Booker Prize longlisted author of The Water Cure)
A remarkably assured and beautifully written debut, filled with sinister delights and intriguing themes of imprisonment and objectification. A truly captivating read. (EC Fremantle, author of The Poison Bed)
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)
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)