The Dollmaker By Nina Allan – A Review

Publisher: Riverrun

Publication Date: 4th April 2019

For a kickoff this proof is beaut! Black sprayed edges? Yes please, but enough of that.

Andrew Garvie is considered the odd kid in school, he’s shorter than everyone and has a keen interest in collecting dolls. This interest sweeps him along into adulthood and becomes more of an obsession.

When Andrew sees an advert in the personal ads at the back of his doll collecting magazine, asking for pen-pals sharing the same interest in dolls and particularly doll maker and author Ewa Chaplin, he responds. Despite not really having an interest in Ewa, Andrew would just like a companion with a common interest who shares his love of dolls, it helps that the advertisers name is Bramber Winters, a whimsical name that Andrew is drawn to.

Andrew and Bramber correspond with each other via letter and Andrew soon discovers she is living in a remote mental institution on Bodmin Moor. As they reveal more about their earlier lives to each via their correspondence, Andrew has the notion that he would like to make a surprise visit to Bramber, to rescue her and share their love of dolls in real life.

Andrew takes a book of stories written by Ewa Chaplin with him during his trip across the country to surprise Bramber.  On reading these short stories he begins to draw parallels between his life and the lives of the characters in the story. They are macabre, creepy, insidiously strange stories which have similar themes and threads running through them.  Dwarves, odd characters and gruesome fairytale-esque qualities. Andrew is disconcerted but determined to complete his journey to save Bramber.  But how will Bramber react when he finally makes it to Bodmin moor?…

This story is told via Andrew’s narrative, Brambers’ letters to Andrew and interspersed with the stories of Ewa Chaplin.  It is a quirkily told tale, the like of which I don’t think I’ve ever read before.  The short stories themselves would make an absolutely fantastic short story collection with a creepy undertone running throughout.  They are just the kinds of stories I love to read! I enjoy stories with a creeping sense of forboding and a sense that something is not quite right…. The only ‘issue’ i had with these stories was the lack of time and place. Whilst reading the first couple I found myself trying to grasp onto any details which would give me a sense of what time period I was in.  I found I was flipping the pages back and forth looking for details.  It was difficult because the language and tone of these stories made them feel very fairytale like, which in turn made me feel as if I was in a bygone era, however occasionally modern references were made.  In the end I decided to give up looking for clues and just immerse myself in the stories and enjoy them for what they were.

Character wise Bramber and Andrew are both very interesting.  Having said that I’m not sure I found them very likeable, Andrew more so than Bramber.  I just felt a slight disconnection with them and didn’t really understand their odd relationship.  Even though Andrew’s narrative is told in a modern setting, his demeanour and language made it feel a little dated to me.  Again I found it hard to develop a real sense of time and place.

I have read reviews on Goodreads from people saying they didn’t engage with the interspersed short stories and even thought they might have got a bad print copy.  Conversely I thought the opposite, as I mentioned above, I would have much preferred the short stories as a standalone collection without Andrew and Bramber’s narrative.  Sorry!

I was enthralled by the first two thirds of this book but then I have to admit I lost interest a little by the latter third and found myself racing through to finish.  Overall I would say that this is certainly a quirky read, some moments of brillance and some moments where it lost it’s way a little. Not a book I would reccommend to everyone but one that needs to be experienced if you are in the mood for something a little on the strange side!

Thank you so much to the publisher for the proof copy.


See you soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx



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