Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow

The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow

First published in America by Macmillan in 1954. New edition published by Vintage Classics today, the 2nd March 2017.

One of my WorldReads from America

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Gertie is the young mother of five children – uneducated, determined, strong. Her only ambition is to own her own small farm in the Kentucky hills where she lives, to become self-sufficient and free. Whenever the struggle to live off the land eases, her inarticulate imagination takes its freedom and flies. Because Gertie is also an artist, a sculptor of wood and creator of beautiful handmade dolls.
When the family is forced to move to industrial Detroit, with its pre-fab houses, appliances bought on credit and neighbours on every side, life turns into an incomprehensible, lonely nightmare. Gertie realises she must adapt to a life where land, family and creativity are replaced by just one thing: the constant need for money.

I know it's still only the very beginning of March, but I feel certain The Dollmaker will turn out to be my Book Of The Month. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be my Book Of The Year too. It's that amazing! I was completely immersed in every page of Arnow's writing and it is rare that a book grips me to this extent throughout, especially one of over 600 pages. I don't understand why Harriette Arnow isn't world famous. Literature of this standard is absolutely a classic and I am grateful to Vintage Classics for their reprinting. I might never have found The Dollmaker otherwise.

I do perhaps need to divulge at this point that, despite my enthusiasm, The Dollmaker is not a happy book. There are certainly joyful moments, but if you like your fiction to be uplifting then this probably wouldn't be your best choice. If, on the other hand, you enjoy thought-provoking social commentary, richly detailed scenes and events, and superbly observed and portrayed characters, I would urge you to give this novel a try. I spent two days, pretty much unable to set the book aside, with Gertie and her family feeling her hope, fury and despair, and understanding how she could set aside a brief glimpse of paradise for a very literal interpretation of hell. I am sure The Dollmaker will remain in my thoughts for weeks and possibly months to come. Discovering a book of this quality is why I love reading and I will be eagerly recommending to every reader I know!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Harriette Arnow / Contemporary fiction / Books from America


  1. After reading A Little Life, I think I've more than reached my quota of sad books for the next six months (at the least). Doesn't mean I won't try again. :D I'll be putting this on the back burner, for sure.

    1. I've got A Little Life on my TBR list. Maybe I'll leave it a while longer before starting!

  2. I've added this review to Best Of The Bunch over at A Cocoon Of Books!