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Elizabeth Macneal Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Doll Factory (2019)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Elizabeth Macneal is a potter, thriller, and historical fiction author from East London best known for her debut novel “The Doll Factory.” When she submitted her novel for publishing, it caused such a stir as it was the subject of a fourteen-way auction before it was finally bought by Picador. The novel has already been translated into twenty-nine languages and its rights sold in more than thirty territories. The award-winning novel is set to be made into a TV series. The novel is set in 1850s London and stars a young woman who dreams of becoming an artist and a man obsessed with collecting that may just destroy her life. It is a story of possession, obsession, painting, love, and collecting that was a Waterstones Book of the Month, Sunday Times bestseller, a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, a Radio 2 Book Club pick. It is also the winner of the 2018 Caledonia Novel Award. Apart from her writing, she also has a ceramic studio at the bottom of her garden where she has her kiln and wheel. Her ceramics have been featured on BBC1’s “Mary Berry’s Britain’s Best Home Cook.” She has also been listed on the best 5 ceramists in Britain on the “Evening Standard” and had some of her works acquired by The Museum of London that has put some of them on display.

Macneal was born and grew up in Edinburgh and as a child, she would always be found with her nose in some book or other. As such, when she went to college at Oxford, it was a no brainer that she studied English literature. Elizabeth wrote her English degree dissertation on the cluttered nature of literature during the 1850s. She was particularly interested in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and hence writing her dissertation was a breeze as she had read a lot about the subject. It was also a good thing that she was a Victorian fiction nut and hence she knew everything about the Pre-Raphaelites and the “Great Exhibition.” Upon graduation from Oxford, she moved from home and got a job in London as a management consultant where she worked for five years. While she loved being a consultant, she would eventually quit the corporate life to pursue her dream of becoming an author. She enrolled for a creative writing master’s degree at the University of East Anglia on a Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship. She has said that her intention in enrolling for the program was to get the confidence to pen novels that she would have loved to read. During this time, she wrote two manuscripts but got several rejections from publishers though she never gave up. Since her pottery business was doing well, she could coast along improving herself while surviving on her business.

Elizabeth Macneal’s inspiration for her debut novel “The Doll Factory” came from her preoccupation with the Pre-Raphaelites and particularly the artist Lizzie Siddal. She had at one time thought about writing a fictionalized biography of the artist but did not believe she would have enough material given that she did not have enough information about her. Ever since she saw Siddal’s painting of Ophelia, she had been fascinated by the detailed compositions, the vivid colors, and the radical tones that harked back to the medieval era. There was intrigue to the colorful, young ambitious, and don’t care attitude against the established order. Macneal was interested in the contribution of female artists to the movement who had unfortunately been forgotten over time. While she thought a biography of Siddal it would be almost impossible to tackle, everything clicked into place when she stumbled into a small basement museum while looking for a place to while away the time while it rained heavily outside. Elizabeth was intrigued by the mind that felt the desire to collect and preserve such a varied display that she found in the museum. The collector was Viktor Wind and when she read his book, he asserted that collecting is a sickness. He said that for the collector no matter how much they have they will never have enough. It was from this that Silas the lead character was born with his entitlement to have everything he desired, his loneliness, and his objectification impulse. The idea for “The Doll Factory” became a reality when Elizabeth realized that she could make the female artist and the collector part of one story. Lizzie was a fictional character and she had the freedom to write her to be whatever she wanted while Silas was a dark Victorian figure that had an affinity for the 1850s clutter and memento.

“The Doll Factory” by Elizabeth Macneal is a chilling and unforgettable piece of historical gothic fiction set during the Victorian period. Elizabeth writes a beautifully constructed and atmospheric story of art, horror, ambition, love, and deranged obsession amid the scientific developments, poverty, culture, class divisions, squalor, entrenched inequalities, and the prevailing social attitudes and norms that informed the treatment of women. Rose and her sister Iris live boring lives painting dolls for their laudanum-addicted employer Mrs. Salter. Life has not gone the way they thought it would as Iris who had always wanted to be an artist never got the support she needed from her family. At the Great Exhibition of 1850, Iris meets the strange and odd Silas, a troubled taxidermist who has a collection of curiosities that had always fascinated artists and medical professionals. She thought it was an insignificant meeting but for Silas who has been lonely for a long time, it is the beginning of an obsession that will soon turn into a strong delusion. Silas wants Iris to model for him and she thinks this is the opportunity she has been waiting for to finally escape the suffocating social class and life and finally achieve her dreams. She accepts to model for him as long as he gives her art lessons which she does in secret. But then Iris starts developing feelings for the man though it is clear that he is disturbed and may have other plans for her. It is a gripping story that is more of a combination of thriller and historical fiction rather than just pure historical fiction. With its evocative and rich descriptions, the science and Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood combined with her well-written characters, it is a disturbing, unsettling, and immersive read.

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