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 fairy tales 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 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.
I had never read any of Nina Allan’s books, but when I saw The Dollmaker on Twitter, there was just something about the cover that spoke to me, something in the blurb that drew me in, so I dashed to NetGalley and requested it. When I was approved I was over the moon! Then I started reading it, and to be perfectly honest: I thought I’d made a mistake in requesting The Dollmaker, that maybe it wasn’t one for me. But me being me, I decided not to count my chickens before they hatched and give it a fair try. Suddenly I looked up, 200 pages in, wondering where Sunday afternoon had gone to, and why on earth I’d had such reservations! In hindsight, I think I needed some time to get used to the writing style and to make sense of the story’s make-up.
The tale is threefold: it alternates between Andrew, Bramber and various short stories from the hand of Ewa Chaplin. We first meet Andrew when he’s a young boy encountering his first doll. Just like that, a passion is born and before long Andrew starts making dolls himself. Then we meet Bramber, a woman with a bit of a chequered past, who lives in a remote mansion in a remote area and puts out an ad to which Andrew responds and so they start communicating by letter. Andrew falls head over heels for Bramber and decides he has to meet her, save her, so from then on we follow Andrew on his journey to Bramber, whom we get to know through her letters to Andrew. While Andrew is on the road, he reads some enthralling short stories, little mini thrillers with murder and magic in them. I have to say, that first story confused me a little, what was it doing there?! Although the short stories are mentioned in the blurb I had thought they would be mentioned in passing throughout the book, not that there would be entire stories. However, I ended up positively adoring Ewa’s stories. I loved how they featured dwarfs and were linked to Andrew in that way because he has dwarfism himself. I found myself looking forward to another one whenever the narrative focussed on Andrew and Bramber for more than a few chapters. Although I also enjoyed those parts, mind; during the short stories I found myself wondering what would happen when Andrew finally met Bramber in real life, what would she make of him and his small stature and I was always eager to find out more about the enigmatic woman herself. I do feel the short stories might be a little too long for some readers: they really break up the Andrew-Bramber storyline and I think it might get confusing or annoying if you can only read a few pages at a time. But if you do like I did and read half the book in one sitting, you’ll have no problems with that!
I’m so happy I didn’t DNF this after the first chapters! I ended up thoroughly enjoying both the writing style and the narrative and if you like quirky tales that are just a little bit different from everything else, then you should definitely check this one out!
The Dollmaker is out on 4 April! Pre-order here.
Many thanks to the author, the publisher and NetGalley for the free e-ARC. All opinions are my own and I was not paid to give them.