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The art of living & loving

The setting is 19th century London, there is a huge art moment, and the band of artists that went by the name PRB, who chose to move away from idealistic portrayal and move towards nature and images close to reality. They used real models and believed that their imperfections made their painting more endearing.

Against this setting and the famous artists of the period Johnnie Millais, Rosetti, Elizabeth Siddal, William Hunt, is Louis Frost trying to make a painting that will be accepted for the big exhibition coming up at Hyde Park.

On the other end are two sisters, Iris and Rose, united in their poverty and dreams of their own shop; they would call it Flora and sell flower trinkets and the kind. Iris is born with a warped collarbone and Rose was the beautiful one until smallpox strikes and changes her skin permanently.

The two inseparable sisters love and hate each other for different reasons and together they toil at a doll shop forever hunched over work, making and painting the dolls for various occasions – a few good ones and some bad.

Iris nurtures a secret dream of becoming a proper artist, and practices during the night using supplies that she secretly buys with her savings. One day she walks over to the exhibition site, which is preparing itself for the great art spectacle, a beginning of the course of events that would make for the plot.

Silas, a collector of strange beings, who recreates models of the dead animals and birds by stuffing them and selling them to artists and homes as décor, happens to see Iris, and thus begins an obsession bordering on being psychotic.

Louis Frost too meets Iris and asks her to model for him. She agrees but on one condition; that he teaches her to paint. At Louis' she learns the nuances of various mediums, the true meanings of PRB, and slowly but surely, she is falling in love.

This is the first published book of the author and she has set a course for herself. Love stories are simple, two people fall in love, face a few hurdles and then live happily ever after or they don't and then it ends up as a tragic love story.

'The Doll Factory' is a sensitively written love story, set against one of the most vibrant periods in art history, which the author recreates with much passion.

The eclectic art world, the free-spirited artists, their fears, doubts and accomplishments, the bars that they frequented, the kinds of Silas, who collected rare things that could be used as models for the artists – a facet of Victorian world that one has not often visited in books or otherwise is unfolded with the help of an engaging style of narrative.

And set against this rich canvas is a story of budding love between two not so perfect people, and like every love story, this too has an antagonist and situations that work against them. Elizabeth Macneal has a beautiful book on her hand that takes the reader to lands and people of another time. And here are the people, who chose to be part of a change as they try to break free from obstacles in the path of realising their dreams.

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