Cornish tales and legends

The doll maker

de Nina Allan

Translated from English by Bernard Sigaux

Tristram, 406 p., 23,90 €

An advertisement in a magazine is at the origin of the strange relationship between the two characters in this beautiful novel by Nina Allan. A woman, Bramber Winters, who resides and works in a psychiatric hospital in Tarquin’s End, a small village in Cornwall, wishes to have information on Ewa Chaplin, creator of dolls of the last century invented by the novelist. Lonely, dreamy, suffering from his small stature, Andrew Garvie was never really loved. Lover of dolls since childhood, he chose to create them, becoming a recognized artist.

An epistolary exchange begins between them around the reading of a collection of nine fantastic novels by Ewa Chaplin, while Andrew makes the trip from London where he lives to Tarquin’s End. As a highlight of these intertwined stories, the novelist has placed a few discreet guides to facilitate immersion in her lands of fiction. Starting with the emblematic motif around which everything shines: the doll, a representation of the human being, a small object on which, from his early years and sometimes throughout his life, we project our desire, our fears, our hatreds.

The legendary forests of Cornwall

Like the jewelry in Nina Allan’s previous novels, or the brooch in one of Ewa Chaplin’s short stories, the doll is a gateway to the imagination, a perhaps dangerous gateway to madness. To a list of the XIXe century describing the blows and small ceremonies that children did not hesitate to inflict on this toy are followed by poems whose figures have built Andrew: The dwarf by Matthäus von Collin, or the prologue to Canterbury Tales, which clarifies the image of the valiant knight that Andrew drew in him.

He crosses impoverished England today, in sad hotels and restaurants where he feels his loneliness but also, carried away by a Schubert melody and memories of the Middle Ages and German romanticism, finds old buildings, museums, old dolls that he sometimes copied when he drew his own. It sinks towards the West, towards the beauty of the moors and the legendary forests of Cornwall, in the manner of Lancelot or Galaad.

Andrew’s lonely team towards a woman he loves without having seen her and the news, full of evil spells, of Ewa Chaplin, meet in a sort of no man’s land, of waste land, the romantic domain of Nina Allan where dream and life intermingle, experience and imagination, advances in science and the break with immediate existence. Another voice, at the end of his journey until his return to London, seems to guide Andrew. It’s a doll he called Artist and who calls him King.

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