The Dollmaker – Nina Allan

Published April 13, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

What did I think?:

The whimsical nature of The Dollmaker was first brought to my attention during an event held by Quercus Books last year where they showcased some of the fiction they were excited to be publishing in 2019. The Dollmaker was one of these books and marketed in such a gorgeous display that not only was it immediately eye-catching but I was instantly intrigued to read the novel. Thank you so much to the publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

Wonderful display for The Dollmaker from the team at Quercus Books.

From the very beginning, The Dollmaker felt like a very “me” book. From the quirky subject matter to the inclusion of fairy-tales and the nods to magical realism, I was incredibly excited to read it, desperately hoping I would be instantly captivated and under the author’s spell. Now that I’ve finished it, I can finally report back with a mixture of both positive and more tentative thoughts that I’ll do my best to get across coherently. First of all, I don’t think this book is going to be for everyone. Stay with me though because that isn’t necessarily a negative statement. Very much like the dolls within the narrative, the story itself is quite disjointed and has a tendency to shift as you’re reading it, almost at times like a stream of consciousness.

Nina Allan, author of The Dollmaker.

We see most of the story through the eyes of Andrew and Bramber who have struck up a correspondence and are beginning to feel quite strongly towards each other, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings through the letters they write and receive. When we begin the novel, we learn about Bramber, who has spent much of her life in an institution for reasons unknown and as she gradually opens up to Andrew, we learn more about the events that led to her present situation. Unknown to Bramber, her correspondent Andrew, who has mastered the fine art of doll-making is on his way to where she is to finally meet her face to face and build on their relationship. Interspersed between their stories and letters are fairy-tales from Ewa Chaplin (also a doll-maker) which Andrew is reading on his journey. However, as the stories continue, there appear to be some strange cross-overs between characters in Chaplin’s tales and events in Andrew and Bramber’s own lives.

I have to say, the fairy-tale aspects of this novel were one of my favourite parts. I didn’t enjoy all of them to the same degree but some of them were incredibly dark, delicious and gripping. However, this is also where the difficulty rose for me with this novel. I appreciated the beautiful, unusual style of writing and the clever way in which the author intertwined parts of the fairy-tales with the main narrative. Yet it was only when I read the fairy-tales that I found myself fully invested in the story. Sadly, I didn’t feel a connect with either Andrew or Bramber and although I was intrigued to find out what would happen if and when they met face to face, I didn’t get as much out of their characters or personalities as I would have liked. Sometimes it felt as if it went off in too many directions for me to catch hold of the thread and unfortunately, I found myself looking forward to the next fairy-tale rather than the story between the two main protagonists.

There’s no denying that The Dollmaker is a very unique and accomplished read and there are real sparks of magic, suspense and darkness that were wonderful to experience but it was just a shame I couldn’t find a connection with the primary characters or their individual stories. Nevertheless, I would still be interested in reading other works by this author on the strength of her storytelling ability.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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6 comments on “The Dollmaker – Nina Allan

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