Allan writes about neglect and transgression very well. There are some wonderfully taut scenes in which characters betray one another, often violently. But it is hard to remain gripped by the rest. Andrew’s meandering journey from London to Cornwall is stretched out tediously, and more than once I found myself asking why I should care, about him or anything he is doing. While Allan has crowded the book with imaginative protagonists — sinister shopkeepers, a paedophilic collector of automata — none, including the dolls, emerges as a character worth rooting for.