Doll opens and closes with musings of our first thoughts, yet it’s clear there isn’t much to remember in between.
The unique selling point is the distinctive style of the book. The first half is written from the perspective of a sex doll; gaining consciousness on the journey to her new owner. From here, she begins to develop a strong bond with J, the guy who paid over $7,000 for her.
Following this is J’s account of purchasing, and subsequently living with the doll.
Over this course, we see the doll go from the desired object of affection to becoming just another object on the shelf. This change in emotion and attachment symbolises the change we feel upon meeting a new lover. Those feelings of butterflies and fascination at their every move, believing they’re perfect – They’re the one.
However, as time continues, these thoughts begin to fade. We pick up on new inflictions in their personality, habits, and social abilities, thus distorting the original idea.
Doll consists of an over usage of medieval English. I’m not sure if the author is trying to imitate Nabokov’s style here, or is completely out of touch with how modern language – my guess is the former. Regrettably, the structure comes across as an author obsessed with Pale Fire.
Given the classical language, with words such as inviolole, and whorl, the content feels misplaced. It’s hard to hold the suspension of disbelief for classical writing when the book is published in 2021.
‘I wonder this about the addenda of love and sex.’ Although the word addenda is correct, it’s utterly archaic in use. Even as an English teacher, these words break the sentence’s flow, forcing the reader to concentrate on the context.
It only serves to drag the story along like a ball and chain on the reader’s feet. There’s no chapters here, just a split between parts one and two, which further prolongs the torment. A more informal tone, especially from the doll’s perspective, would have made her ideas more receptive.
Another of the writing problems here is the heavy reliance on descriptive text.
So, J has small feet, but they’re also well-shaped? This is only the tip of the iceberg as the doll begins to count the hairs sprouting from his toes, to the size of his handwriting.
Equally, the graphic descriptions of genitalia and bodily fluids are equally obtuse. I can’t decide if they are there to shock the reader (which they don’t) or as a camp joke?
In addition, they read a lot like a teenager who’s just discovered a Cambridge version of urban dictionary, not to mention using every poetic euphemism under the sun to describe a vagina.
A New Perspective
Given that the story opens with a doll waking up in her crate, she starts with no idea what anything is – just that she’s on route.
Although the doll gains an intrinsic awareness of its surroundings, quickly learning just about everything there is to know, it never gains the ability to articulate its thoughts into speech. The problem here is going from a newborn baby perspective to a fully qualified philosopher in a matter of pages. It’s jerky and disorientating.
That said, there are a few moments of dark humour to pique interests, but these are few and far between. There are musings of sentimentality, attraction and love; mostly conveyed in J’s retelling of the events. Again, they remain mostly humourless and high-brow.
Contrast to this, if Doll was a short story instead of a two-hundred-page novel, there could be some plot potential. It’s possible that with further experience, Leggatt can create an impactful book with parallels to his obvious idols (specifically Nabokov), but this isn’t it.
On the plus side, I think the cover is fantastic. It’s sleek, minimalistic and conveys the basic premise of the book.
All things considered, Doll is a muddled book that struggles with its own seriousness. With no immediacy and an archaic tone, the book’s narrative is plodding at best.
There isn’t too much to hang your hat on besides a few insights into love and attachment. Leggatt has clearly tried here and hasn’t just gone for shock value; it’s just ill-fated that it reads like a watered-down imitation.
On a side note, the audiobook will be narrated by adult performer and author Stoya (who has some fascinating articles over on Slate (NSFW)). This again shows commitment to the cause and not just a quick rehashing from the publishers.