Review – The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

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 won’t have it in my house,’ said my father. ‘You don’t want to encourage him, do you? That’s exactly how these things start.’

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews for Nina Allan’s newest novel, The Dollmaker, published last week. A rather peculiar tale that could be mistaken for a historical timepiece if it wasn’t for the odd contemporary reference, The Dollmaker is in essence a love story between the unlikeliest of people. Responding to an add seen in his collector’s magazine for information on the famous but little-known dollmaker, Ewa Chaplin, Andrew Garvie – also dollmaker and lifelong doll enthusiast – writes back to a Bramber Winters whose circumstances seem shrouded in mystery. It becomes clear that she is in an institution on Bodmin Moor and the reasons for this reveal themselves slowly through their correspondence. Journeying his way across England, through old country towns, Andrew is on a mission to rescue the woman he loves.

A story made up of three strands, The Dollmaker weaves in Andrew’s first person narrative, Bramber Winter’s letters and stories written by the aforementioned Ewa Chaplin. Initially I found these short stories irritating in their deliberate function to the plot. Andrew Garvie reads one story then is reminded of a person or experience from his past and reminisces, so on and so forth. However, as the novel picked up momentum I began to look forward to these escapes. Ewa Chaplin’s stories are heavily influenced by folklore and fairytales – dwarfs, fair maidens, time changers and changelings make up the cast of characters. I was reminded towards the end of one of my all-time favourite writers, Angela Carter, in the way Allan mixed the magical with the grotesque with the real.

However, I was not convinced by the rest of the novel. I didn’t feel heavily invested in either Andrew Garvie nor Bramber Winters and although I appreciated the avoidance of a cliched or predictable ending, I couldn’t muster up much excitement for it. That’s not to say it’s not a good book. The majority of reviews I’ve seen have been extremely positive (as I mentioned before). I just think this was a case of ‘not my kind of thing’.


The Dollmaker by Nina Allan was published on 4th April 2019. Thank you to Quercus Books, via Netgalley, for the review copy.

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