The Dollmaker

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

The Dollmaker bears all the hallmarks of Nina Allan’s fiction: it’s an orchestral piece of multiple harmonies, delicately stitched together out of different genres of story. Like the dolls that its central characters love and make it is much more than the found, borrowed and crafted materials from which it is made. Allan specialises in a kind of storytelling that I can best describe as resonant. Motifs, themes and imagery move through her work in a way that is intuitive rather than thematic. I respond to her writing at a gut level long before I understand it. 

Andrew Garvie is drawn to dolls from a young age, arrested by the loveliness of their porcelain faces and neat hands. It’s an interest that arouses the suspicions of his family and later his colleagues, who find his interest troubling, as though it reflects something not quite right about him. Culturally dolls are not only toys but also uncanny and magical, sometimes sinister. Andrew’s interest in them marks him as different, possibly deviant; they make him stand out as surely as his small stature. As a dwarf he is already carrying round a heavy baggage of associated folklore and myth. 

When we meet him in his mid-30s he’s been deeply lonely for a long long time. Which is why he responds to a personal ad at the back of a doll-collecting magazine, posted by an enigmatic woman called Bramber Winters. She is seeking information about an obscure post-war dollmaker called Ewa Chaplin, an artist and writer whose dolls are vanishingly rare and unique. Andrew doesn’t know a great deal about Ewa but writes anyway, and gradually forms an attachment to Bramber via their correspondence. He knows very little about her real-life circumstances, other than that she lives in some kind of institution, but he feels he understands her and that she, in turn, understands him. It’s an intoxicating feeling. 

The novel is constructed from Bramber’s letters to Andrew, interspersed with the story of the journey he makes, unannounced, from London to Devon to visit her. Along the road he reads from Ewa Chaplin’s only published collection of short stories, five of which are included in full. 

This sounds relatively mundane, but The Dollmaker is not in a mundane register at all. It’s tone is fantastical, casting a spell-like unreality over Andrew, Bramber and their lives. This is partly achieved through the intercession is Ewa’s stories, which tell of sinister other-worlds in which women fall in love with beggars, alchemists steal time, aunts turn out to be faeries and artists live under harsh theological laws. Threads of glamour, artifice, bewitchment and folktale run through them, which combine with the novel’s fixation on dolls to beg questions about reality, power and passion. These unsettling ideas seep out into the interstices of Andrew and Bramber’s story so that their world - our world? - also seems strange and treacherous. This combination of reality and unreality, the constant shifting of the goal posts of the truth and the imagined is familiar to anyone who has read The Race or The Rift. There is a quality of hallucination to all of Allan’s novels, which constantly challenges you to reassess exactly what kind of story you are reading. 

At the centre of the book is the genre of the quest: Andrew’s journey towards Bramber recalls the Arthurian trials of knights who set out to find their true love. He knows he makes an unlikely Lancelot or Galahad but he pushes on, a fact that makes him both very vulnerable and incredibly brave. There are so many times when the novel wrongfoots you about the outcome of his journey. At times it’s so unnerving you dread him reaching his destination; what will be waiting for him there? But although The Dollmaker is sinister it isn’t cynical. There is a sincerity to it that makes it feel buoyant, a yearning towards love and companionship and the possibility of connection through mutual respect that delivers a beautifully delicate and complex ending.  I absolutely loved it.
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This is such a unique story. I have to say that i struggled with the first few chapters and put it down only to pick it up a week later and was hooked.
It's a love story and a fairy tale that merges together to bring an other-worldly narrative to the story. It is about a boy, Andrew and a girl, Bramber, both with a passion for dolls who write to each other and hope that fate will bring them together. The dilemma is that Bramber lives in a institution in Bodmin, Cornwall, with demons of her own to deal with. What they are, you will have to read to find out.
The Dollmaker reminded me a little of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, another fabulous book.
If you are prepared for a unique and slightly weird novel then you will love this. I know i did! 
I just reviewed The Dollmaker by Nina Allan. #TheDollmaker #NetGalley 
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I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes. Thank you!

Nina Allen’s The Dollmaker is a strange novel. It contains a jumble of elements: a boy, then a man, interested in making dolls, his long-distance friendship with a mysterious woman, conducted by the means of letters, short stories written by a (purportedly) Polish refugee, concerned with strange events, dolls and dwarfs, and the way fiction and “real life” permeate each other. 

There are many pieces to this puzzle, and many of them are interesting and engaging on their own, but on the whole, it doesn’t all quite come together. Sometimes it feels a little like an A.S.Byatt novel (and I love A.S. Byatt). Sometimes it feels like Jostein Gaarder. It can be captivating and fascinating, but it doesn’t quite work.

I am especially perplexed by the supposed Polish writer and her short stories. Why make her Polish (Polish Jewish) if the stories don’t really have much to do with Poland? The names used in the stories especially are such a weird mix of kinda-Polish, kinda-maybe-Jewish, kinda-maybe-German, and then just plain made up. And okay, a lot of them have a fairytale-like quality, maybe the names aren’t supposed to be genuine: but on the other hand, there is an introduction to the stories written by a contemporary Polish scholar called “Krystina Lodz” and… nope. First, “Krystyna”. Second - “Lodz”, seriously? There are thousands of last names in Polish that don’t contain any diacritics and would sound much less fake. Would it really be that difficult to find a Polish-speaking person  to look through these parts of the book?

On the whole, it was an interesting reading experience, but (as you can see above) fairly frustrating.And even though I cannot wholly recommend this book, I’m very interested in what Allen writes next.
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Struggled to get into the book due to the writing style. Enjoyed the concept and the ideas but I found it a little confusing.
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It's hard to pinpoint the genre of this book, but I think that's part of the appeal. Several different stories happening at the same time. The characters were well developed
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Let me tell you, I fell hard for this book, the folkloric elements and modern fairy tales spoke to my soul! What Nina Allan does with The Dollmaker is dance between the genres so effortlessly that you are unable to place this book in terms of a specific genre, it reminded me of authors like David Mitchell whose work spans genres.

Our main character Andrew Garvie, the master of his craft, handmaking exquisite antique style dolls. Quiet and lacking in confidence, one day he does something out of character and replies to an ad he has seen in his collectors magazine. Bramber Winters is seeking out information surrounding Ewa Chaplin world renowned doll maker extraordinaire. Andrew answers her advertisement, sparking a quick developing friendship leading Andrew to make a snap decision to take a journey across from London to seek out Bramber in her 'home' on Bodmin Moor.

There are three narratives within this story, Andrew Garvie - his back story, how he ended up writing to Bramber and his longing to feel accepted by another human, to fall in love and be happy. Full disclosure here, I didn't start to warm to Andrew's character until around 200 pages in, up until this point he felt like a narrator, quite disjointed from the overall story and not one of the main characters. However, after this point I found myself feeling quite protective over him and wanting to defend some of his actions, even though at times I found him a bit cringey.

We learn about Bramber Winters via her correspondence with Andew. Slowly she drip feeds us details of her childhood, adolescence and how she has come to live in a large shared 'house' on Bodmin Moor. I adored these letters and how Bramber's character develops with each letter she sends. I will admit, I was half expecting her to either turn out to be Ewa Chaplin or to have some deep connection to her, but I wasn't disappointed when this was not the case.

For me the genius within this book lies with the short stories which made up the third narrative - I could have read an entire book of these. From fae Aunts who sleep with your boyfriend and who you then plot to kill, to strange piano playing children, to spies and secret agents. The short stories were strange, punchy, unnerving, odd and just deliciously dark, I could have devoured them by the bucket load. They definitely reminded me of the short story collection written by Daphne du Maurier 'Dont Look Now'.

I am not sure if this was something the author set out to do, but I did struggle to place the book into a specific timeframe. Ar times, it almost appeared that the time frame was shifting as I was reading, at times it felt very modern, however at others like it was 50 or 100 years earlier! This didn't hinder my reading in anyway and as the story progressed it's something that I stopped trying to work out and instead just went with it.

Although difficult to characterise in terms of genre, what Nina Allan has managed to do is effortlessly dip into folklore, romance, spy thriller all without compromising and over complicating the overall narrative. It's a wonderful book which does highlight the stigma attached to disability, mental health, isolation and loneliness, but with a positive message at the heart of it. It's about people who haven't ever felt like they belonged, seeking friendship and love.
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In retrospect, everything else in The Dollmaker was overshadowed for me by the hauntingly brilliant long quotation that prefaces the novel, taken from an 1897 article called 'A Study of Dolls', co-authored by the famous American psychologist of adolescence, G. Stanley Hall. Here's a little bit of it:

'90 children mentioned burial, their average age being nine; 80 mentioned funerals, 73 imagined their dolls dead, 30 dug up dolls after burial to see if they had gone to heaven, or simply to get them back. Of these 11 dug them up the same day... 12 dolls came to death by accidental bumps and fractures, 1 burst, 1 died of a melted face, 2 were drowned (1 a paper doll)... 30 children had never imagined dolls dead. This parents often forbid... In 21 cases there was death but no burial; in 10, funerals but no burials; in 8, funerals but no death.'

This is so ridiculous and beautiful, the kind of inadvertent poetry that you sometimes find in Victorian social studies, that The Dollmaker was never going to live up to it. Ultimately, I admired the craft and intelligence with which this novel was written, but it wasn't really my thing.

Andrew Garvie, who has dwarfism, has spent his life collecting and making dolls. When he receives a letter from Bramber Winters, a woman living in an institution on Bodmin Moor, about his collection, this begins an enthusiastic correspondence between them. Andrew sets off on a journey across England to finally meet Bramber, and on the way, reads a book of Polish stories that she's recommended to him by the fictional Ewa Chaplin. Chaplin's stories are littered with characters that might be considered 'freaks' in nineteenth-century parlance, from a range of people who also have dwarfism to a woman whose fingers have been frozen by rheumatoid arthritis and a woman born without one of her eyes. This engages Andrew's sympathies; recently, he has been restoring 'monsters', damaged dolls who don't have perfect faces and bodies, because he sees no reason why dolls shouldn't reflect reality.

A number of Chaplin's stories are scattered throughout the novel, and most are riveting; subtly disturbing, they all suggest worlds that aren't quite our own. In contrast, Andrew and Bramber's plot-line is rooted more firmly in reality than I'd expected, and I longed for more than a hint of the speculative. The dolls themselves are more symbolically significant throughout the novel than anything else, and I wished there had been a lot more about Andrew's work as a dollmaker, picking up on the hint of creepiness in the Stanley Hall quote. And while the Chaplin stories worked for me, they made the pace of the novel very erratic, as it took me a little while to get into each one, meaning I'd often put the novel aside for some time when a new story appeared. Without the stories, on the other hand, this is a familiar tale of two misfits finding love through letter, and Bramber never really came alive for me; I'd have preferred the whole thing to be about Andrew, his dolls, and Ewa Chaplin's stories.

Writers often complain that reviewers review the book they wanted to read rather than the book the writer wanted to write, and that's definitely at play for me here; I SO wanted this to be a more alternative-reality sort of novel that I kept on making up elaborate twists that didn't come to pass (Andrew and Bramber are actually dolls in a complicated child's game!). However, this is a very well-written novel that I'd recommend to those to whom the synopsis appeals, and as I hear Allan's earlier novels lean more towards the SF, I'll definitely be checking those out.

Review cross-posted to Amazon, Goodreads and my blog.
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Literary novel about an obsessive doll-maker (and collector) who travels across the South coast to find the woman he's been writing to, interleaved with dark fables from an emigre doll-maker and author.
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Andrew Garvie has always had an infatuation with dolls. Now, all grown up, he is a collector and a dollmaker himself. Through a newspaper add, he has met Bramber Winters. And, letter by letter, he gets to know more about her strange life that has led to her being institutionalized. As their long-distance friendship grows, Andrew will decide to embark on a lonely journey in order to meet Bramber in person. When they finally meet, will they be able to break free of their pasts? Are they going to move on together, or was this whole journey in vain?

The Dollmakes is a story of well-built storytelling. Moving between narration, letters and fairy tales, Nina Alan creates a plot that hooks the reader, who can't wait to discover what secrets are hidden in the heroes' pasts. That having been said, it's certainly a book for acquired taste:  it's something you'll either love or hate. The plot seemed to move at an extremely low pace at times, making it harder to read than it should have been, and the characters were certainly too strange for the reader to empathize with.  It felt like some more editing was definitely needed for the story to give its best and stand out.
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The Dollmaker is a book composed of many stories. The main narrative follows Andrew, a man fascinated by dolls. His fascination started when he was eight years old and bullied because of his height. Something about their smallness and imperfections allowed him to accept how he was perceived by other people. However, what just started as a hobbie became his life when people started to buy his own creations: his monstrous yet fascinating troll dolls. Composed of parts taken from other broken dolls, they are Andrew’s tiny Frankenstein monsters.

While reading a specialized magazine, he stumbles upon an ad written by Bramber Winters, a woman looking for information on Ewa Chaplin, a famous dollmaker. Andrew doesn’t know a lot about Chaplin but he’s immediately captivated by the ad. They soon start exchanging letters and Andrew quickly realizes than he is in love with Bramber. Once he realizes that, he knows he has to meet her. However, Andrew knows two things  about Bramber: she loves dolls and she has been living in West Edge House, a former mental hospital for twenty years.

   The Dollmaker follows Andrew’s journey as he crosses the country to meet the woman he’s obsessed with. During his travel, he decides to give Ewa Chaplin’s collection of short stories a try since they are so important to Bramber.  However, as soon as he starts reading the strange and eerie stories, he realizes the odd similarities between them and his own life.

As I mentioned, this book has a very interesting structure, some sections are narrated by Andrew, other are fragments from Bramber’s letters or stories written by Ewa Chaplin. I loved the short stories which isn’t surprising since I love Nina Allan’s short fiction. Her prose is superb and very atmospheric. The Chaplin stories all had the same eerie quality, beautiful writing and fascinating themes. Dwarves, dolls and monsters are at the center of those five stories and they were without a doubt what I loved the most in The Dollmaker.

I was also fascinated by Bramber’s letters, I loved learning about her and slowly discovering why she wanted to stay at West Edge House. Her story is very interesting  and her letters were written in a sort of stream of consciousness style that allowed me to really understand her. I wish Allan’s had included some of Andrew’s letters. It would have been a great way to see how he portrayed himself to Bramber. Since we only get Bramber’s perspective, I could only guess from her answers.

The rest of the book was narrated from Andrew’s perspective, he’s not a particularly nice but the world never gave him any reason to be. His unhealthy fascination for broken dolls and for Bramber was pretty creepy but, in a bizarre way, I could understand why he acted the way he did.

Bramber and Andrew are both very odd characters, they seem to be living outside of time. Except for a few mentions of technology, this story could be set decades ago: both characters use letters to communicate and Andrew’s journey to Bramber takes days because he stops in several cities.

It’s an emotional and delicate story written in an unconventional way. It is an immersive experience for sure but it is very slow-paced. It’s a quiet character-driven story about two people trying to forget parts of their childhood. Some parts are fantastical and the stories lean on the horror side however, I wouldn’t call this book fantasy or horror. If I had to categorize it, I’d say it’s a literary fiction book with magical realism elements. If you like your books action-packed with a lot of speculative elements, The Dollmaker isn’t the book you’re looking for. However, if you want to read a slow and quiet story about two complex characters, I would highly recommend!


Four stars.
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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 fairytales 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 remain alone with their painful pasts or 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 . . .

Love, love, loved this. Difficult to categorise - at times it reads like gothic fiction, sometimes like magic realism, and of course, there is the love story that underpins the narrative. I really enjoyed how Nina Allan mirrors Bramber and Andrew's lives through Chaplin's short stories, and how these stories deepen our understanding of them both. I feel as if the Chaplin short stories deserve to be published in their own right, I thought they were wonderful. Truly fairy tale like, dark not disney I hasten to add. A satisfying, well-written fantastical yet realistic novel.

I haven't read Allan's previous novels but will remedy that now. Would definitely recommend The Dollmaker.
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I can safely say that I have never read a book quite like this one, and don’t think I will again! It was a book that challenged me, unsettled me, intrigued me – and, by the end, had completely enchanted me. 

The main narrative thread follows Andrew and Brammer, who meet through a shared love of dolls, and an advert for a pen pal that Brammer places in a doll collecting magazine. After exchanging several letters, they soon realise they also share a similar feeling of not quite belonging, of being misfits, and develop a companionship. Andrew decides to embark on a grand quest to meet Brammer – who lives in a mental institution several days’ journey west. Andrew doesn’t let Brammer know that he’s intending to visit her – so I had a very anxious feeling as he travelled west to meet here. How would she react when he suddenly arrives? Will it end in disappointment? 

On his journey, Andrew takes a book of fairytales by Ewa Chaplin – a doll maker and author who Brammer has a keen interest in. Short fairytales from this book weave in and out of Andrew and Brammer’s story (which is told through both Andrew’s quest narrative and letters from Brammer to Andrew). These short, eerie stories seduced me – I found them completely bewitching, while at the same time wholly disconcerting. Similar themes run through them of dwarfs, dolls, the grotesque, duchesses, queens, good and evil, magic, carnival, betrayal, revenge. They are shocking and powerful stories – emotion bubbles close to the surface, with an underlying and lurking threat of a downfall to come.They were by far my favourite part of this book. 

The format of the whole novel is disjointed, like the individual doll limbs on the book’s front cover, which need to be stitched and glued together. Through this narrative structure, Allan blurs the boundaries of ‘art’ and ‘life’ – similar characters and situations from the fairytales appear in Andrew and Brammer’s own recollections, and the two begin to meld together. This mirroring had a jarring and eerie effect on the me – it was startling to recognise something you’d already seen elsewhere, in a slightly different form. Different modes of art are interrogated throughout the book – paintings, music, antiques, poems, letters. I found this metafictional, self aware style quite challenging at first. Instead of getting lost in this book, I felt I was always being reminded that I was in reading a work of fiction. 

We are told near the beginning of the story that dolls do not age – and even though Andrew’s quest to rescue Brammer is very linear, I generally found time to be quite fluid throughout the book. I was not always sure what era all the stories were set in, or what age all the different characters are. This again could be quite disconcerting, for example when a sense of youth is juxtaposed with some very adult themes. 

All in all, I didn’t find this a very ‘easy read’ (if that’s what you’re looking for…). But in the end, I found that I had enjoyed the challenge, and ultimately have been left quite astounded by this original and quirky book.
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This was a story with a surreal, fairy tale quality to it – the main storyline is formed as a correspondence between two unusual personalities, both are doll enthusiasts and are in some ways very similar but, in others, very different. Their correspondence is interspersed by short stories written by a fictional dollmaker that they both admire, these give the book its fairy tale quality. The stories aren’t necessarily cutesie happily-ever-after types, which is what makes this book stand out.

It wasn’t entirely to my taste as I’m a pretty literal creature, I don’t really enjoy interpreting stories and this book featured unreliable narration as well as ambiguous short stories, which was a bit too much for me to really immerse myself in the story. I do, however, appreciate this this book is going to really suit fans of surreal character studies.

What I did enjoy the most about this book is that the main characters have voices that you don’t often hear in books, their unusual perspectives are really refreshing and make for a good read. The budding friendship between these two characters is really beautiful and gave me the warm fuzzies.

To me, this is a book that's more about the journey than the destination and meant to be savoured.
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This is a really hard book to review, mainly because it is several books in one. The main story follows two characters - Bramber and Andrew. Bramber advertises for a pen pal and quickly she and Andrew form a strong bond through their correspondence. Both of them seem isolated, solitary people and they both have trauma lurking in their childhood. Andrew decides, unbidden, that he is going to cross their metaphysical boundary and travels across England to meet Bramber. We follow him in his journey, while Bramber continues to write to him.

Interspersed between their stories are some dark, eerie fairie tales from a book that Andrew is reading whilst on his travels. A book written by one of Bramber's favourite dollmakers, turned author. And it is within these short stories that this book really comes alive. Every single one of them was unsettling in some way, and some of them are downright horrible. The weird parallels that can be drawn between these stories and incidents in both Andrew and Bramber's lives make them even more unnerving. 
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By doing this, Allan really plays with the structure of this book and subverts the normal mechanisms of storytelling. Stories within a story can be hard to pull off but actually these mini fairy tales were the best thing for me about this book. These asides encompass all the best things about grim fairy tales (pun intended). They are appropriately dark and menacing!  And because they are so good - something strange happened. They took me out of the main thrust of the story. I would then be returned to Andrew and Bramber's story feeling confused and having to remind myself what was happening, and really, I just wanted to return to these brilliant, insidious fairy tales. 

And weirdly, this left me wanting more from the main plot. It felt like we were building up to some big reveal with Bramber's narrative with the increasing revelations about her past, but actually I found their eventual meeting anticlimactic, and her backstory didn't make a huge amount of sense to me.  The 'love-story' element between these two characters just didn't play out for me.

This is a really interesting book that considers what its like to be different in a world that doesn't tolerate differences and how isolating this can be. But I wanted it to do more. 

However, if this author ever brings out an anthology of dark fairy tales, I would read it in a heartbeat.
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The doll maker and collector Andrew Garvie, creates beautiful dolls, a calling he discovered after a childhood interest in dolls.  Then he answers a personal ad at the back of a collectors magazine and begins a pen pal friendship with Bramber Winters. 
With each letter Bramber reveals more of herself, her residence Bodmin Moor institution, her past, and why she is there. With each letter Andrew falls further into the friendship and decides to rescue Bramber. 

As Andrew travels through small towns and villages on his journey to Bodmin, he reads a book of fairytales written by the unusual doll maker and story teller Ewa Chaplin, who Bramber hopes to write a book about. Between the stories of both Andrew and Bramber, the fairytales are woven, and we see them reflected and repeated in the experiences of both.
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A wonderful novel of a dollmaker travelling to meet a woman whom he has fallen in love with who lives in a kind of home for people who are suffering from mental illnesses. The novel combines the story from Andrew Garvie’s perspective, the letters Bramber writes to him telling her about her day to day life and her past, and the beguiling short stories Andrew is reading by the fictional author and dollmaker Ewa Chaplin. The short stories are original in the way that they leap straight into the stories as if they are almost novels in their own right, and they are full of magic realist wonders, transgressive love stories and populated by little people and people with disabilities and disfigurements. Andrew himself is exceptionally short and I think the way that the characters are portrayed is really well executed. Andrew comes to wonder if the stories are actually influencing his own plot as he sees the similarities in the stories he is reading with what he is currently doing. Whilst Bramber is afflicted by a sense of guilt Andrew has his own demons to contend with - I liked the parts where he has discussions in his head with the doll ‘the Artist’ who orders him around. This is a magical book I devoured.
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I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews for Nina Allan’s newest novel, The Dollmaker, published last week. A rather peculiar tale that could be mistaken for a historical timepiece if it wasn’t for the odd contemporary reference, The Dollmaker is in essence a love story between the unlikeliest of people. Responding to an add seen in his collector’s magazine for information on the famous but little-known dollmaker, Ewa Chaplin, Andrew Garvie – also dollmaker and lifelong doll enthusiast – writes back to a Bramber Winters whose circumstances seem shrouded in mystery. It becomes clear that she is in an institution on Bodmin Moor and the reasons for this reveal themselves slowly through their correspondence. Journeying his way across England, through old country towns, Andrew is on a mission to rescue the woman he loves.

A story made up of three strands, The Dollmaker weaves in Andrew’s first person narrative, Bramber Winter’s letters and stories written by the aforementioned Ewa Chaplin. Initially I found these short stories irritating in their deliberate function to the plot. Andrew Garvie reads one story then is reminded of a person or experience from his past and reminisces, so on and so forth. However, as the novel picked up momentum I began to look forward to these escapes. Ewa Chaplin’s stories are heavily influenced by folklore and fairytales – dwarfs, fair maidens, time changers and changelings make up the cast of characters. I was reminded towards the end of one of my all-time favourite writers, Angela Carter, in the way Allan mixed the magical with the grotesque with the real.

However, I was not convinced by the rest of the novel. I didn’t feel heavily invested in either Andrew Garvie nor Bramber Winters and although I appreciated the avoidance of a cliched or predictable ending, I couldn’t muster up much excitement for it. That’s not to say it’s not a good book. The majority of reviews I’ve seen have been extremely positive (as I mentioned before). I just think this was a case of ‘not my kind of thing’.
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I really dont know what to make of this book, it was so confusing at first, with the modern day and then the Ewa Chaplin stories. But once I grasped that, it read a bit more smoothly. It was a very strange book, marrying fiction within the real life of the story and how the two characters came together.  I have to say I really do not have any feelings about this book, I only finished it to see if the outcome was worth it and I have to say it wasn't.
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I read this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for a review. My opinions are my own.

I discovered Nina Allan slightly more than a year ago, and I fell in love with her writing in The Rift and The Race; they were some of my favourite novels read last year, so I was beyond excited to get ahold of her newest novel, The Dollmaker, even though the description didn't really appeal to my taste. And really, the novel was both what I love about Allan's writing and what made me wary in the description; the rating of 3.5 stars that I wish I could leave is the reflection of that.

What I loved about Allan's two previous novels and what was realised beautifully here was the way in which the relationship between the frame and the embedded stories is undermined. The characters tell stories about themselves and about the world, and these stories contain further stories. The relationship between fiction and fiction-within-fiction is uncertain and complex; the reader is never sure if the world described is one of the historical past or the present or a fantastical world. There's an effect of disorientation at times; if I interrupted reading in the middle of a chapter, upon returning to the book, I would often find it difficult to find my bearings again, and it was amazing. 

The book is also very beautifully written and engrossing, and its characters are as fascinating as the mysteries they slowly reveal.

What didn't quite work for me was the aspect of disability. While this story is essentially about and against oppression and prejudice, I found it occasionally difficult to get through the ablist thoughts of characters and disturbing images the book evoked (particularly with regard to children). I am not entirely convinced that the book succeeds in what it wants to accomplish there, and I found its pessimism almost misanthropic - and that's something I don't really like in fiction. 

And my second complaint, predictably, concerns the use of Polish names in the book, which was inconsistent and only partly justifiably, in my opinion.

Nonetheless, I found this book extremely interesting and thought-provoking, and I can't wait to read more from this author. I love her voice and her vision.
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The rave reviews surrounding The Dollmaker by Nina Allan had totally whetted my appetite. I was eager to read it. I really thought I would enjoy the story – modern day life mixed with fairy tales.

Sadly, I didn’t like it.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why the fairy tales mirrored reality so precisely that I felt that I was reading the same story over and over again. Then when the two morphed into one I was thrown even more.

I think to read The Dollmaker you really need to be able to suspend your disbelief because if you start questioning things too much, then you, like me, will probably find the whole thing a bit boring and confusing.

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan is available now.

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