The #1 international bestseller and The New York Times Editor’s Choice
“As lush as the novels of Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield, as exciting as The Alienist and Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost, this exquisite literary thriller will intrigue book clubs and rivet fans of historical fiction.” —A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
“A lush, evocative Gothic.” —The New York Times Book Review
“This terrifically exciting novel will jolt, thrill, and bewitch readers.” —Booklist, starred review
Obsession is an art.
In this “sharp, scary, gorgeously evocative tale of love, art, and obsession” (Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train), a beautiful young woman aspires to be an artist, while a man’s dark obsession may destroy her world forever.
Obsession is an art.
In 1850s London, the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and, among the crowd watching the dazzling spectacle, two people meet by happenstance. For Iris, an arrestingly attractive aspiring artist, it is a brief and forgettable moment. But for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by all things strange and beautiful, the 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 beyond her wildest dreams—but she has no idea that evil is waiting in the shadows. Silas has only thought of one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day.
“A lush, evocative Gothic” (The New York Times Book Review) that is “a perfect blend of froth and substance” (The Washington Post), The Doll Factory will haunt you long after you finish it and is perfect for fans of The Alienist, Drood, and Fingersmith.
MacNeal's lively debut finds a fresh way to dramatize the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of revolutionary, mid-19th-century British painters. In addition to William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, MacNeal creates a fictitious PRB member, Louis Frost, who meets Iris Whittle, the heroine, a painter of miniature faces at Mrs. Salter's Doll Emporium. Dismissed for being a woman, Iris longs to be seen as a real painter, and when she meets Frost, he proposes a deal: if she poses for him, he will give her art lessons. At the same time, Iris also comes to the attention of Silas Reed, a taxidermist who sells stuffed animals to artists as props for their paintings. Unbeknownst to Iris, he stalks her with the intention of possessing her like an object\n. Louis turns out to be a generous mentor and Iris ends up falling for him. Only Albie, a light-fingered street urchin befriended by Iris, is aware of how much danger she is in from the obsessed Silas. Told against the backdrop of the Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace and its industrial wonders, MacNeal's consistently enjoyable novel reads like an art history lecture co-delivered by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens and read from a revisionist feminist script. This debut is a blast; it enticingly vacillates between a realistic depiction of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's London and lurid Victorian drama. \n
Dark & twisty story set in Victorian England
In Victorian London live twins - Iris and Rose. They work in a doll factory. Rose sews the clothes for the dolls, Iris paints them. Often the dolls are created to imitate a child, living or dead. Rose was struck by smallpox which renders her disfigured. Iris’s collarbone was broken during childbirth which rendered her disfigured as well.
Also in London are a group of artists known as the PRB. They paint in a tradition of bright lifelike colors. Louis Frost is taken with Iris and asks her to be his model in a new painting. Iris agrees to be Louis’s model with the promise that Louis will teach her how to paint. She leaves the Doll Factory and her disfigured sister behind, and begins this new life of art. During this same time, a taxidermist named Silas Reed develops an unhealthy obsession with Iris. The Great Exhibition is about to begin and Silas wants Iris to be his companion. Perhaps he can woo her with his entry into the Great Exhibition. But Louis got there first.
I had no idea when reading this book that it was actually based on fact. The PRB, or Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of painters in the mid-1800s who pushed back against the popular painting techniques of the day. Back to prior to Raphael’s paintings. While Louis Frost and the Whittle twins are fictitious, the PRB did exist. As did the Great Exhibition and the Academy.
Regardless, this is a beautifully written story of obsession and love and pain and sisterhood. MacNeal has made Iris the tougher of the two twins. This is a woman with spunk, in a time when women were expected to be prim and proper. Poor Rose with her scarred face is more of the mouse. Louis is wild and free and funny and sweet. Silas is dark and slimy. The story tells us not only of these people, but also of a time when life was not so easy for most. There is suspense and terror in this book. It is not all paintings and beauty. MacNeal gives us a dark and twisty tale to follow.