It’s dark, it’s twisted and it’s got love. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Seagan is a tale of love set in 1850s London, where Iris and Rose, twin sisters live and work at a doll shop. Iris, with wrongly set collarbone from a birth injury, walks with a slightly different gait and Rose, once the perfect twin with a beautiful face, is now disfigured due to smallpox scars and has lost sight in one eye. Iris dreams of painting and she assiduously saves money to buy paint and easel. And this desire to paint makes her accept Louis Frost’s offer to model for his painting in exchange of painting lessons.
Unknown to her Silas, a lonely taxidermist is slowly getting obsessed with her. There is Albie, running through the dark and grimy streets of London earning his living by making dresses for the dolls that the sisters make and whom Iris considers as a little brother. Louis Frost is part of a group of painters who call themselves PRB, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who are rebelling against the academic norms of the time.
When Iris and Louis set to work together, she takes lodging away from Mrs Salter’s shop and finds her freedom for the first time in life; and also a chance to learn art from Louis himself. With time they fall in love. Meanwhile, Silas’s obsession for Iris increases day by day and he starts following her. Albie, who has an inkling of what Silas wants, goes through a conscience struggle when Silas threatens to kill his sister if he tells Iris anything.
The story builds on the love and obsession with ease and the early 1850s London of the poor is depicted vividly. Iris with her quest for freedom, Louis with his ideas for art, Albie with inherent goodness in his heart are all great characters and grow as the story progresses but the best of the lost is Silas. As his obsession for Iris grows, we see how lonely and deranged he is and his twisted mind is enough to give creeps to anyone.
I liked the way the story progresses. The first 30 or so pages were a bit slow for me but after that I was in the story. This is Elizabeth Seagan’s first book and I look forward to reading her next work which I hope lives up to the benchmark she has created with The Doll Factory. This was one of the better books of the year and a perfect end to my 2019 read list.
My rating: 5/5