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.
Dollmaker Andrew has engaged in a pen relationship with a woman called Bramber, who he suspects is trapped in a facility she needs rescuing from. Their shared love of dolls inspired Andrew and Bramber to write to one another, and through the letters, they have developed a strong relationship. Andrew believes he loves Bramber, and is so sure Bramber is the one for him, he decides to set off on a hundreds of miles journey to surprise Bramber. Along the way, he passes the journey by reading a book that contains fairy tales, which are an awful lot like Andrew’s own life.
I didn’t know what to expect with this story, and it kind of took me aback. It was a pleasant story, as it all revolved around human connection. The story is told through the perspectives of Andrew and Bramber (through her letters to Andrew). Whilst Andrew’s narrative was effective in establishing character background and reader connection, I felt Bramber’s narrative through her letters was a bit underwhelming and less effective. I genuinely suspect this will be a personal sentiment, as the notion of letter writing is typically endearing (which I feel too!)… I just wasn’t able to connect with Bramber.
My favourite parts of this book were the fairy tales by Ewa Chaplin. They provided the book with a variety of genres, and really ensnared my interest. These stories included: A woman who falls in love with a poor man, and seeks to escape her loveless marriage to be with him. A woman who falls foul to a dwarf whose idea of time is complex. A teacher who is convinced her new student is a bad omen. A girl who is betrayed by her aunt, and learns she isn’t all that she seems.
What Andrew finds is these fairy tales by Ewa Chaplin seem to mirror his life, and people he knows, to an unabashed degree. I think the parallels were quite good, in helping Andrew’s development of understanding life on a deeper level.
All in all, I read this in 2 days and I’m rating it 3 stars. The story was well written as at some points there was really beautiful prose. But I found there to be quite a somber tone throughout this read, and at times that was fine, but it was really depressing too. I didn’t massively like the story, and the only reason I can give is I didn’t find the story as engaging as other reads. I somewhat enjoyed it, and appreciated the depth within the story, but I was left feeling rather underwhelmed due to the vague way the plot and the characters were written. I recommend this to people who like whimsical prose and short stories, because the book does impress in that regard. But other than that, I wouldn’t recommend this as a story that’s definitely one people should pick up and read.
The Dollmaker by Nina Allan
Published April 2019
Genre: general fiction, historical fiction, mystery
*Thank you kindly to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an e-copy, in exchange for this honest review.