Cover Image: The Dollmaker

The Dollmaker

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Member Reviews

A very well researched book that is so intricate in the way that it combines all of the different levels of the stories within. 

I finished reading this a while ago and I still don't know what to make of it.
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A compellingly strange and fantastical book centred on dolls and fairy tales placed inside of a book with one of the most stunning covers I have seen. The Dollmaker is definitely one for those who like their stories to have a touch of the magical.
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Unfortunately, I was not able to download this title once I was approved and before it was archived. I therefore cannot provide a review at this time.
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Fantastical and fascinating, the Dollmaker is a beautifully woven story. I can't wait to see what else Nina Allan writes.
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Eerie, unsettling and strange, the influence of the fairy tale on Allan's odd but likable story is clear from the start. We follow Andrew, a young man with proportional dwarfism and a deep connection to the art of doll-making. It's this slightly creepy yet endearing interest that introduces him to Bramber, a pen pal-cum-romantic interest who is researching elusive Polish dollmaker and author, Ewa Chaplin.

After a year of slightly awkward but blossoming correspondence Andrew deices to visit the hospital where Bramber has lived for twenty years, beginning a quest through railway lines and small English  towns of variable merit. It's an interesting story as we learn about the lives and struggles of both characters to find their place in the world. Both have been the victims of unequal friendships and the derision of society because of their "oddness". Their friendship is touching, even if Andrew's sudden dash says more about his obsessive personality than the strength of Bramber's reciprocation. Andrew re-imagines himself as Sir Galahad, the pure-hearted Arthurian hero setting out to rescue Bramber from her self-imposed isolation. As his journey continues Andrews finds his courage and will and begins to resemble the strong, powerful characters of the dwarfs at the heart of Ewa Chaplin's fairy tales.

These short stories are interpersed with Andrew's narrative and Brambers letters to him and it doesn't quite work. It's not the fragmentation that is the problem but rather the balance of the writing. The fairy tales are frankly marvellous, full of uncanny events and characters both wonderful and aw(e)ful. each one was an absolute joy to read, if a joy mingled with a thrilling macabre. Andrew and Bramber were less compelling, and at times the punchy style of the fairy tales left the rest feeling a little bland. But it does improve with a sudden reckless act on Andrew's part and the addition of "Artist" to the narrative. Elements of the fairy tales begin to seep into the real world and that all to the good because that is where Allan's writing really comes into its own.
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It’s magical and mysterious and completely intriguing. I got lost in this book and I loved it. I’d recommend!
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Possibly one of the oddest books I've ever read. I was enthralled, but also slightly confused all the way throughout. Not my usual read but I enjoyed it non the less.
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I definitely missed something about this book. Though all the characters were unexpected, their convergence and interactions always lacked a certain logic or believability and thus I felt like I grasped for a hidden meaning to the dolls that I failed to grab.
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While leafing through a magazine Andrew is drawn to a request asking for help with her research into Ewa Chaplin, a famous dollmaker and author. He doesn’t answer adverts normally but feels compelled to write to Bramber Winters and offer his assistance as he himself is a dollmaker of some repute. The two begin a correspondence in which secrets and fears are eventually unraveled and ends in  them meeting in the most unusual way and place. It is, in my opinion, a story of the damage that life can sometimes inflict and how people can heal in the most wonderful but unusual way. 

Nina Allan has written a beautifully descriptive book with interesting characters though I must own up to not liking Andrew very much but I adored Bramber. Throughout the novel there were short stories by Ewa Chaplin which Andrew was reading in the story and I really enjoyed these as they were original and entertaining and broke up the book nicely.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Quercus Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my opinion.
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This story take place through a series of letters from Bramber to Andrew (who are united through their love of dolls), a series of short stories and Andrew’s journey to meet Bramber. on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I loved the idea of this book with its beautiful cover but I did struggle with it at some points..  It is definitely a book that needs reading to the end to be truly appreciated as the story blends together.  It is very well written and I particularly liked the collection of short stories within the book that were reflected back in the main narrative of the book.  This will be one of those books that will stay with me for a while as I continue to live with and reflect on the characters more. I look forward to reading more of Nina Allan’s work and to follow where her imagination takes us next.
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The Dollmaker by Nina Allan is the oddest book I have read this year and, quite probably, of any year. Yet, because of this, it is unforgettable. This curious but fiercely original novel will stay with me for some time.

In it we follow Andrew and Bramber, two lonely individuals who have never met, but who quickly develop a love affair via letters as they become penpals following Bramber’s advert in a doll collectors’ magazine. Only it’s not just distance that make the burgeoning relationship of these two doll obsessives complicated – Bramber is institutionalised and hasn’t told Andrew, and, similarly, Andrew has not informed his new ‘queen’ that he was born with proportionate dwarfism.

How will they feel when their secrets are revealed? That is what is at stake when Andrew suddenly undertakes a trip across England to surprise his queen with an unannounced visit.

Yet, if you think this is all that this story has at stake, well, you are in for a hell of a surprise. With a spirit that blends Angela Carter with Margaret Atwood at her darkest, Nina Allan sets this story off kilter, feeding in fables of murderous dwarfs, time manipulators, fairies and changelings. This she does by cutting in supposed short stories from Andrew and Bramber’s favourite writer – Ewa Chaplin, a supposed esteemed dollmaker who also wrote the darkest fantasy stories with powerful themes of love, obsession, disfigurement and revenge.
The question then becomes, how are these two streams in the book tied? To what extent will the themes in Ewa Chaplin’s books shape our unusual protagonists?

I could write pages about this book – the way Nina has crafted the language so that, even though the novel is rooted in contemporary England, this feels like a Grimm Brothers fairy-tale, a little unworldly; the sense of porous walls between the central love affair and the stories written by their shared favourite author – how these dark tales seem to merge with reality until you wonder whether this is coincidence or forewarning. And just that darkness and the strange blend of the gothic and the contemporary. Brilliant and unforgettable.
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This was my first foray into Nina Allan and I am so so pleased I read this book, this follows, this story is written in a unique fashion with the main story interweaved with small short stories that carry the plot within it.  We first meet Andrew Garvie in adulthood as he makes exquisite handmade dolls in the antique style you would now see in a museum.  They are unique and beautifully sought after items and so when he is reading a collector's magazine he decides to reply to a personal ad contained within it.

This starts a correspondence with the intriguing Bramber Winters who with each passing letter reveals more of her unusual story (whilst residing in an institution based on Bodmin Moor), as they begin to get to know each other, we see that tragic events in her childhood are the reason for her entrapment and as their bond becomes stronger, Andrew decides to come to her rescue.

As Andrew sets out on his journey to save Bramber he takes to reading the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin which, much like her lifelike dolls blur the edges of reality and fable in his mind.

This story is a darkly compelling tale of love between two extraordinary individuals.  The dark subject matter at times links to sexual grooming, the symbolism of dwarfism with Andrew stating "if I were a couple of inches taller I wouldn't even qualify as a dwarf, I would just be a shortarse...", this also draws on the diminutive stature and beauty of the dolls and how he is drawn to collecting them. 

The writing is so compelling within the main and sub stories that time seems to be mirrored within them both and that time sets a feeling that you don't know where it is going or what it might do but it is important.  

The way that Nina Allan approaches this story gives it a magical and yet elusive feeling, I have given it 4* as I did struggle on some of the longer short stories within this book however you are left with a book you will not forget, it will haunt you and make you question if the place your started visiting with Andrew is the same city or whether he returns to a different one.
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A literary, often unsettling road trip novel about dolls, dwarves and fairy tales. Andrew, a proportional dwarf who makes and collects dolls, enters into a correspondence with Bramber, a woman he hasn't met but who he comes to believe to be his soulmate. The unannounced journey he makes across the west country to meet her provides the narrative thrust of this novel. Interspersed with this are - obviously - Andrew's backstory, the letters Bramber continues to write while he is travelling, and a series of haunting, slightly spooky fairy tales that bear echoes of the narrator's own experience. To enjoy it, you have to concentrate hard, and suspend your disbelief even harder - but it's worth it. The writing is beautiful, the plotting clever, and the entire thing - despite my initial doubts - an emotionally fulfilling read.
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Thanks for the copy via Netgalley.

The blurb: 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 is why he answers the enigmatic personal as in his collectors magazine.
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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.
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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, trick our own...
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This book takes so long to get anywhere that I gave up on it in the end. Sorry, well written though.
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Wasn't able to read and review book before it was removed from my e-reader


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 . . .
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An atmospheric and questioning storyline with interesting characters. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an advanced reading copy.
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Unusual, surprising and beautiful. I really enjoyed reading the e-ARC and I will definitely buy a copy of the book.
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One of the rare books that I didn't finish.  In theory it had everything to transfix me but ultimately I didn't care enough about the characters to continue.
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Such an unusual book. The cover really is beautiful, which was the first thing that drew me in. The book itself was a really lovely surprise. 
I thoroughly enjoyed The Dollmaker, and would recommend it to others.
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