The Dollmaker

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Member Reviews

DNF at 23%. The pacing was a little bit odd for me and while I really enjoyed the fairytale-esque story interludes, the main plot line dragged a bit for me and the scene of sexual assault early in the book, brief though it was, did put me off. I love the premise and the writing of the story parts was wonderful, and I do believe other people will very much enjoy this book, it just wasn't for me!
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The Dollmaker - a mesmerising page-turner

It’s a testimony to this compelling novel that the second I reached the conclusion, I turned back to the beginning and started reading it all over again.

Andrew makes dolls, Bramber loves dolls and their mutual obsession prompts Andrew to make the journey from London to the south west to rescue her, like a knight of old. The three strands of the novel – Andrew’s narrative, firmly rooted in reality, Bramber’s letters from West End House, a mental asylum in all but name, and the short stories of Polish émigré Ewa Chaplin – are woven together like a lustrous plait on one of the dolls that Andrew creates.

And, oh, what a force these dolls are. At once innocent as a child but also, looked at in a different light, eldritch – even creepy. Likewise, there’s a running theme of dwarfism. Andrew is technically a midget and, by an uncanny coincidence, dwarves abound in the pages of Chaplin’s stories. 

Andrew’s quest has a timeless feel about it. Although the novel’s setting must be contemporary, as it refers to computers and mobiles, Andrew plots his journey using gazetteers, almanacs and railway timetables.  His almost pedestrian account (he gives a TripAdvisor style review of my home town of Reading!) grounds the book so firmly that the more fantastic elements seem perfectly credible – an old authorial trick that works especially well here.

I was lucky to receive the text on Kindle through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, and I can honestly say that I’m sure this will be my Book of 2019!

Just occasionally I did lose track of the characters within the three story strands; not surprisingly as the characters in Chaplin’s stories are often echoed in Bramber and Andrew’s real lives. I wonder whether reading the story in ‘tree book’ form, with clearer physical demarcation between sections, might help here.
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This book started off really strong, but completely failed to hold my attention. The way it flipped from the main plotline to chapters from a fictional book just kind of threw me. It made the prose choppy and clumsy. I didn't like it at all
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What a strange and wonderful book, so very different to anything I’ve ever read.

The story explores the letters between Andrew Garvie and Bramber Winters, who come to know each other through their mutual interest in dolls. Bramber is researching the life of Ewa Chaplin, who was both a dollmaker and writer of macabre fairy-tale type stories. On his way to meet Bramber in the one-time mental institution in which she lives, Andrew reads his way through Ewa’s stories, in the company of a doll he steals.

Are the dolls, the dwarves, the disfigured, and all the other inhabitants of the Chaplin stories playing out the the lives of Andrew and Bramber, or the other way around? The disconcerting mirrorings of the stories in the real-life narrative is clever and creepy. I loved this.
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If there was one word to sum up this book it would have to be 'strange'. I'm just not entirely sure if that's a good thing  or a bad thing. 

I started it with high hopes but it just got a little bizarre for my liking. I really didn't enjoy having the short stories which just confused me and like others had me wondering if I had a bad copy. 

It's not that I think it's a bad book but I just don't know if it's a good one either.
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I have a personal dislike of stories within stories, and herein, there were lots. I found them quite jarring, and didn’t feel as though they added much to the main story, which would have been easier to get a feel for were it not for all the interjections!
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The title alone interested me and apart from it being a love story, I did not know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at both the plot and Allan's ability to weave a subtle, easy to follow narrative through what could easily have been a clunky and difficult to follow structure.
The main plot follows Andrew and Bramber, they connect through their shared love of dolls and although have never met write to each other often. Their love story and Andrew's desire to meet her is the driving force behind the narrative, as he embarks on a journey to Cornwall to meet her. As their letters progress, we find out further details about their pasts and how they have come to this point in their lives. It is this relationship that the reader really falls in love with. But Allan doesn't stop there, this is not a simply love story. Instead, she has peppered in translated short stories from the Polish author Ewa Chaplin, the woman who Bramber is researching. Each of the short stories brings a magical aspect to the story, usually one of love, betrayal and occasionally magic. 
At first, these short stories were a distraction from the main plot, however, as the novel progressed it became clear how they actually related to Bramber and Andrew's lives and in some cases, their love. It is this that truly makes this a great novel. Each short story is thoughtfully included to be structurally significant and develop the main narrative. 
The Dollmaker is slow to start and it did take me a while to really get into it, however, once I did, I marveled at the subtleties of the plot. Another point that I loved, these were not your typical protagonists and the ending was not your typical love story ending. Instead, Allan has thoughtfully considered her characters and what they need at the end of the novel.  
It is worth noting that you do not have to love dolls or even like dolls to enjoy this narrative, instead the dolls are a way for the characters to connect. As someone who finds porcelain dolls creepy, I was worried about how I would react to a novel called 'The Dollmaker', instead I loved the world that Allan created and at no point did I have nightmares about dolls!
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What made this book stand out for me is its unusual structure.  What might have been a love story of fairly limited scope - two people, personally challenged in different ways, corresponding over a shared love of antique dolls and doll-making, followed by Andrew’s slow journey across England to meet up in person - is enhanced by a series of stories within the story.  These are the work of a fictional Polish dollmaker of the mid-20th century and uncannily reflect events in Andrew’s own life, underscoring the difficulties he experienced in his early years.  I found myself racing through the more modern day story of Andrew and Bramber’s friendship to get to the next of Ewa Chaplin’s stories - so much more intriguing and featuring some really interesting characters, I’d have been glad if there had been more of them.  Not at all heavy-going and all rounded off nicely (and not too neatly), I’d be happy to recommend this novel and, on the strength of this one, am tempted to check out Nina Allan’s back catalogue.
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The Doll Maker is a love story. A weird, twisted and fascinating love story, shaped in the same way the doll maker shapes his dolls. In it we read the story of Andrew and Bramber, told slowly and with care, not to show to much at first, but to make us thirsty for more. The book was written in a very clever way, we are fed small parcels of the events in Andrew’s descriptions of his travels and on Bramber’s letters to him. Nothing is revealed to early, or given to us in a silver platter.

On another hand, we can find a book within the book, as Andrew is reading the short stories of Ewa Chaplin, another doll maker/writer. Her stories are as mesmerizing as her dolls, and enchant both main characters, and also us while we read them.

We need to pay full attention while reading this book, especially because when we are buried deep in an Andrew or Bramber passage we are suddenly taken away to a chapter of Ewa’s book, and have to adapt to new characters and story flow. But these short stories are also a pearl on itself, wrap the book in a mysterious aura while at the same time setting a background to the main characters thoughts and feelings.
It is a love story, but also a book about embracing the difference, about daring to be yourself despite everyone else’s opinions, and how all of us make each other suffer with our easy judgement and misconceptions. It is also a speculative fiction book, as we are taken to strange ideas like parallel universes, the definition of time, and other light brushes on science. 

I recommend it to everyone who likes a story that is different, daring, bold and is not afraid to embrace difference.
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As a child I rarely played with dolls. They always scared me; tiny little humanoids with eyes that snap open and stare. This book reminded me of my childhood fear with its creeping tension and ability to worm its way into your consciousness. 
Andrew and Bramber are drawn together by their love of dolls and the history of dollmaking. Andrew is 4ft 9in tall and Bramber is in an institution on Bodmin Moor. They strike up a correspondence and Andrew travels to meet her hoping that they might develop a closer relationship. Interspersed with his journey are short stories by Ewa Chaplin, a doll-maker and author who moved from Poland to London at the start of World War II. Her stories are dark, twisted fairytales with evil fae and living dolls. Recurring characters, objects and themes appear in both Andrew's and Ewa's stories blurring the lines between reality and an alternative reality.
The Dollmaker is well-written and constructed and Ewa's stories are particularly masterful with their looming menace. It verges on the side of horror for me which is not my preferred genre and it is overtly sexual in places, but I think fans of noir magical realism will love it.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Quercus Books for my ARC.
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Thank You Netgalley & Publishers For Granting My Request To Review This Book.

This Book Was Set Out As Narrative, Letters & Mini Stories. The Stricture Took A While To Get Used To But I Really Enjoyed All Bar One Of The Mornin Stories And How/Where They Were Placed. 

The Letters Were Of Correspondence Between Andrew Garvie & Bramber Winters, Friends Who Have Never Met. Through Their Letters And Andrew’s Narrative, We Learn Secrets Of Their Lives That They Feel Comfortable Telling Each Other And Not Their Closet Acquaintances. 

After Finishing This Last Night, I Still Dont Know How I Feel About It And If I Actually Liked It. Their Were Aspects I Liked But I’m Still not Sure Overall
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Oh boy. Oh boy, oh boy. The Dollmaker is the ultimate Marmite book – you will either love it or you’re going to have a bad time with it. I was the latter.

Now, it’s very important to point out that I will most likely be in the minority with this. There are a LOT of people who absolutely love and cannot get enough of this book, but I tried. I tried so hard to love a book with an excellent cover and an opening paragraph about murder.

Let me set the scene first.

Ever since he was a kid, Andrew was obsessed with dolls. Not modern day ones, but instead he developed a fascination with those from the Victorian era. He wanted to Pokemon the shit out them and get them all – not for monetary gain, but rather because he appreciated their looks and craftsmanship. It’s a lonely existence when it comes to niche hobbies which lead him right to Bramber; his new penpal.

This is a tale of his journey to meet Bramber face to face and he did what all humans should do when they get stuck in fart-cans-on-wheels for prolonged periods of time. He brought his favourite book of short stories by an author called Ewa Chaplain.

This is where things get jarring. Those short stories get woven into the book and it feels like a printing error. I was someone who'd struggled to get into the plot in the first place and then I get presented with short stories mid-chapter so, naturally, my brain did a little cry. Basically, I spent more time re-reading sections to make sure I understood what had just happened than I'd like to admit…

The other thing – I actually found those short stories really interesting and wanted to know more only to be thrown back into the main story just when I was getting right into it. There were times when I probably looked like a right huffy little brat with a face like thunder on my commutes. Anyone would think I was trying to solve a work conundrum rather than trying to follow along with the book’s plot.

What’s annoying me the most is that I loved Andrew and Bramber’s story and I was also intrigued by the short stories. I just really, really needed them to be separate so my tiny brain could keep up.

This is by no means a bad book. The writing is fluid and the stories are interesting; it just wasn’t my thing 🤷

Blog will be published a week before publication.: https://shitbookreviews.com/?p=177
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What a strange and elusive tale! The atmosphere is gothic but we're in a modern world where people have mobiles. Ultimately, I think, this is an inclusive story of two people who would have been regarded as grotesques in Victorian fiction (I was thinking Dickensian, especially) instead being normalised, empathised with and, eventually rescuing each other (almost). There are tantalizing  layers created through inserted fairy tales which reflect and retract the main story, and the writing is fluent throughout. An unusual novel, and vision.
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I can hardly wait for this to be published so I can tell my customers all about it.  A really original gem that worked on two levels.  I adored the characters of Andrew and Bramber  and thought the unfolding of their respective stories was skilfully done.  The fairytales throughout were amazing - atmospheric fables providing a whole other level to the novel.  Most wonderful!
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This book was frankly quite strange. I originally DNF but went back to it as the premise had continued to draw me in. Unfortunately I didn’t have much luck the second time. There was a certain strange naïveté to the characters and the weird obsession with dwarfs throughout was baffling. I also didn’t like the way it switched perspective into the stories in between as they were incredibly long.
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This is the type of book that splits opinion. Either you consider it a work of art, filled with prose within prose, or a slow burner that never really gets going.

Cleverly planned, this starts as a tale about doll collections and the meeting of minds. It plods through timelessly, you are never entirely sure of ages or times. Then the book starts to form another book within itself. It is almost unnerving!

You will the book to come together, which it does in the end, just not how I wanted or foresaw.

So I would say I belong in the former rather than the latter. This is a real literary experience, it challenges and confuses, but ultimately rewards you. Now that I've finished it, I want to dive back in at the beginning!
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Clever, elusive and at times terrifying, The Dollmaker is a wonderfully rich and vivid piece of fiction. Great for fans of Angela Carter or Erin Morgenstern.
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A modern gothic inspired by, amongst other things, a poem, ‘The Dwarf’, written by Matthaus von Collin and set to music by Schubert in Vienna in the early 1800s, the main character of The Dollmaker, Andrew is of short stature and his love of dolls not only provides him with a career but puts him in the way of another doll collector, Bramber, who is particularly interested in the dolls made by Ewa Chaplin, a woman who also wrote short stories that explore an uncanny fascination with dolls and dwarfs.

His correspondence with Bramber, begun through a collector’s magazine, develops and Andrew falls in love with her and decides to travel across England to meet her. On the way, alongside Andrew, we read their letters and the eerie tales of Ewa Chaplin that twist their way into a narrative already rife with myth and alternative reality. Andrew has not told Bramber he is a dwarf and Bramber hasn’t fully explained why she is living in what seems to be a mental institution. The clever way in which fairytale interweaves with the mundane, using the romanticism of poetry and myth (I couldn’t help but be reminded of Tristan and Isolde when reading ‘The Dwarf’) brings a heightened sense of melodrama and chivalry with uncanny notes of the surreal – what is more uncanny than a doll made in the likeness of a real human being? – to a homely coach and train journey across England in which Andrew mainly stays in bed and breakfasts.

As the novel progresses the surreal aspects of the story increase but the ending remains grounded in the real, taking a turn both unsuspected and empowering without fitting into any of the tropes a reader might have expected. This is very pleasing.

So too is the novel’s ability to translate into the unconscious imaginings of the reader. If you’re aiming for uncanny, you want to unsettle the reader enough to get ripples of suggestion working through their dreams and Nina Allan does just this with The Dollmaker. It’s an odd, quixotic tale; a modern playful gothic whose images linger in the mind. Out in April of this year, it’s for anyone who likes to have their dreams invaded.
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This was a really atmospheric and gripping read. I liked the dark, fable-like quality of the writing. The two main characters were both equally fascinating, and I enjoyed the way their stories came together.
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I've read pretty mixed reviews on this, and I must admit that it certainly wasn't the kind of book I'd normally read. It had a very strange atmosphere to it, almost creepy at times.

Andrew recalls some of his childhood and youth, and his instant love for a doll he saw in a window. I actually felt that there was no sense of time even from the start - it took me a while to figure out how old Andrew was in particular parts of his story, let alone how old he is now. This was probably the root of my main issues with this book; I just couldn't make sense of the timescale.

The introduction of Bramber's letters was an interesting aspect, though I soon found similar troubles here: I did not feel the passing of time. I also had trouble keeping up with the characters. Still, the story being outlined was intriguing and quite exciting where Bramber's past was concerned.

Bramber's letters are included in-between Andrew's own story, where he narrates his journey to surprise Bramber with a visit. They had never seen pictures of each other, or even spoken on the phone. It was a risk, but one Andrew felt was worth taking. Throughout this journey, Andrew tells more stories from his youth - several of which are quite - almost disturbingly - sexual.

It is also interspersed with Ewa Chaplin's Nine Modern Fairytales, which all include a dwarf in some way. These stories were all rather creepy on their own, and Allan regularly refers to aspects from them in her writing.

I do not want to go into detail recapping the plot. My three main points to convey in this review are: it had a very distinct, strange aura; there seemed to be a distinct lack of time passing; I personally felt no real connection to or interest in any character. I felt very detached from this book when I read it. There were no faults with the writing that I could identify, I just simply didn't click with it. That being said, I do appreciate the writing itself, and so am giving this book 3 stars.
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