The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

The Doll Factory.jpeg

Elizabeth Macneal’s debut historical novel arrives with some fanfare from the publishers of The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton’s wildly successful debut historical novel of 2014. For the most part, the excitement is justified. Macneal is a talented writer and this is a frankly moreish novel. We are not in Amsterdam in the 1680s this time but London in the 1850s.

Macneal’s heroine, Iris Whittle, was born with a slight deformity which has not dented her sanguine temperament, unlike her once beautiful but now bitter and pockmarked twin sister, Rose. It also doesn’t prevent her from catching the eye of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 

The sisters paint the faces on china dolls in Mrs Salter’s Doll Emporium but Iris has (bold, given the period) ambitions to become a painter. She also has an admirer in the sinister taxidermist Silas Reed. At one stage, “He imagines her bladder within her, wet and pink like the inside of a peach, and then apart from her, dried out and white like a crisp pig’s ear.” 

 

Land of the Living by Georgina Harding

Georgina Harding’s four previous novels – The Solitude of Thomas CaveThe Spy GamePainter of Silence and The Gun Room – have all explored, in different territories, what trauma does to the psyche. Land of the Living is no exception. The Second World War has ended and a young British officer, Charlie Ashe, has returned to England to marry Claire. His experiences as a soldier in the Battle of Kohima – one of Britain’s bloodiest battles – and the subsequent months he spent lost in the jungles of Assam, are now firmly in the past.

 

An Evening of Historical Romps

Imogen Hermes Gowar's historical romp, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock was only published a fortnight ago but is already riding high in the bestseller list.

I'll be talking about the book with Imogen at Waterstones Gower Street on Monday 5th March. Over a glass of wine, we'll also discuss the irresistible appeal of historical romps. Drinks are served from 6.30pm. Tickets available via the link below. All tickets, hallelujah, include wine.

 

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Before Imogen Hermes Gowar was a writer, she worked at visitor services for the British Museum. There she came across a rare and hideous artefact, a mummified monkey stitched to the tail of a fish. Fascinated, she plunged into the story that became her first novel, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. Thanks to a feckless captain, Jonah Hancock -- a merchant -- loses a ship but finds himself apparently in possession of a mermaid. Gowar wickedly evokes the brothels and coffee shops of Georgian London, abuzz with talk of this extraordinary creature. he impeccable period detail is brought to life by the sheer joy of Gowar’s prose in this bawdy, witty tale. And she has particular fun with Angelica Neal, a spoilt, spirited and highly accomplished courtesan. 

 

Sugar Money by Jane Harris

Jane Harris’s novels often focus on the disenfranchised: a maid in The Observations, a woman reduced by spinsterhood in the Victorian era in Gillespie and I, and now, a young slave in this third novel. Disenfranchised they may be, but her protagonists don’t lack agency. The narrator of Sugar Money is Lucien, a slave who is barely in his teens and whose voice is startlingly optimistic. In Martinique in 1765, Lucien and his older brother, Emile, are tasked by their French master with returning to Grenada — where they once lived — and smuggling back 42 slaves who are living under the rule of English invaders at a hospital plantation in Fort Royal.