The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal’s debut, was one of the most impressive historical novels of 2019. Her second novel is an equally satisfying exploration of some of the odder corners of Victorian life. Its heroine, the country girl Nell, is speckled with birthmarks on her skin that make her a curiosity...
a novel that again highlights Macneal’s rich imagination and vivid prose.
Elizabeth Macneal’s marvellous debut, The Doll Factory, was a bestselling success. This second book, beautifully written and filled with character and life, cements her reputation as a new talent.
The circus setting is admittedly a little more hackneyed than the taxidermy and pre-Raphaelite painting in her debut, but underneath the spangles and showmanship, there’s always a lingering stink of horse shit and anxiety. For a novel about a vanished, seemingly alien world, it is also pleasingly contemporary. In the Crimea Toby was chiefly engaged in the dissemination of fake news or spin, presenting a sanitised version of the battlefield. Jasper’s ever more expansive dreams point to mechanisation and the eventual replacement of disobedient human employees altogether. That Jasper is not a villain, Nell no heroine, and Toby entirely unsuited to the role of Romeo, is a mark of Macneal’s subtlety and originality.