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.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.45 out of 5
4th April 2019 by Riverun
My father didn’t want me to have her but in the end he gave in. My mother managed to persuade him he was overreacting. One evening, long after I was supposed to be in bed, I sat in the dark at the top of the stairs and listened to them arguing about her.
I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Once again I have read a book that I enjoyed but didn’t love and once again I have read a book that felt comprised of two halves.
Now, when I say halves I don’t mean that I’m comparing the first half of the book to the second half. I mean that there were two things going on in this book; one I loved and one that I would consider ‘ok’.
The set up is that Andrew and Bramber are pen pals; both lonely and both with trauma in their pasts. They also both enjoy dolls, Andrew on a bit of a more serious level than Bramber, but it’s enough for them to make a genuine and quite sweet connection.
The complexity that comes in is that Andrew is a person of diminutive statue and Bramber is institutionalized. But that’s ok because Andrew has made it his mission to ‘rescue’ her. I say ‘rescue’ with quotes because actually Bramber doesn’t really need rescuing as she’s happy where she is.
Really this story is about Andrew’s journey to rescue himself.
The story is told in an interesting way which I did like. We get Andrew reflecting on his life as he travels through the country to get to Bramber and this is interspersed with the copies of the letters he has received from Bramber so we get a real sense of who she is as a person too.
Both their stories are tinged with a poignant sadness as both have suffered a variety of traumatic events during their lives. Yet somehow, despite this plot line being the bulk of the story it just feels a little lost.
We are looking back on their lives as they both move forward (Bramber emotionally and Andrew as he travels) but there is something that feels a little flat about this plot-line. Nothing much happens. Andrew reflects, he reads Bramber’s letters, he thinks about dolls, he steals a doll and he travels.
This part of the book is that bit that I consider ‘ok.’ Not bad but certainly nothing particularly riveting either. Their individual trauma’s don’t make an impact emotionally because they both just process it them as thoughts of the past and move on.
The other thing that Andrew does during his travels is read a copy of a book that Bramber sent him. This is a collection of short stories by a fictionalised author, Ewa Chaplin, and the tales resonate with Andrew because they feature something in some way that connects to him, Bramber or other people in their lives.
This element is interestingly sinister. Why are some of the fictional stories running parallel to Andrew’s life? Is there a reason behind it? Is it highlighting his own character? Is it foreshadowing something deadly in his nature?
I don’t know. That’s the answer to all the questions. I don’t know.
The stories exist for Andrew to occasionally remark, ‘how oddly pertinent’ (or similar) but there is no strong link, no consequence and no foreshadowing payoff. This is both frustrating (why include something with no payoff after building anticipation?) and confusing (why are they even there at all)?
But these short stories, also interspersed throughout the main story, are the best things about The Dollmaker. In fact I wish this whole book was just a collection of the bizarre, compelling and often macabre short stories instead of the story between Andrew and Bramber.
The main story felt like filler while the short stories took over the page. They are filled with people with dwarfism (like Andrew) and love and longing. There are acts of betrayal and violence and revenge. There’s sex and lust and the faint whispers of magic and fae folk that tantalizingly dangle out of sight. Is it magic or is it trickery? Are these stories contemporary fairy tales or mini horrors?
I don’t know but I didn’t need to know because I loved the short stories and the horrid and wonderful little worlds they showed.
It’s just such a shame that these were used to support an alright but pretty semi-bland main story when actually I feel like these could have been in a short story collection of their own.
The Dollmaker is an enjoyable book overall but I probably won’t remember the main plot in months to come while some of the short stories may continue to haunt me.