The Mannequin Makers

UK edition - Melville House UK

The Blurb

"The skin was smooth and bright as porcelain, but looked as if it would give to the touch. What manner of wood had he used? What tools to exact such detail? What paints, tints or stains to flush her with life?"

So wonders the window dresser Colton Kemp when he sees the first mannequin of his new rival, a man the inhabitants of Marumaru simply call The Carpenter. Rocked by the sudden death of his wife and inspired by a travelling Vaudeville company, Kemp decides to raise his children to be living mannequins. What follows is a tale of art and deception, strength and folly, love and transgression, which ranges from small-town New Zealand to the graving docks of the River Clyde, an inhospitable rock in the Southern Ocean to Sydney's northern beaches. Along the way we meet a Prussian strongman, a family of ship's carvers with a mysterious affliction, a septuagenarian surf lifesaver and a talking figurehead named Vengeance.

The word on the street

"Cliff flirts with fantasy and magic realism in an odd but rewarding novel." Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times (UK)

"Most novels offer up a plot deviation or a final twist that you may not see coming but the incredible invention of The Mannequin Makers is so unpredictable that it is exhilarating. At times the story has a taut sense of threat more common in a thriller." — Paul Burke, NB Magazine (UK)

"Craig Cliff adds to the canon, but with such ambition, creativity and sheer energy that he shows there’s still something new to say about a national narrative that can seem, at times, to hold no surprises."Charlotte Graham, New York Times

"[A] strikingly vivid tale full of startling yet believable twists anchored by the compassionate portrayal of lives overrun with obsession and the drive for perfection. It is an original and gripping read, a rich book by an accomplished writer."— Heidi North, LA Review of Books

US edition - Milkweed Editions
“New Zealander Cliff makes a stunning American debut with a story about obsession gone horribly wrong… This is a spellbinding and original tale, rife with perilous journeys, fascinating historical detail, and memorable characters.

"A grim and glorious meditation on the cruelty of fate."Kirkus

"In The Mannequin Makers Cliff molds his narrative with tools as various and original as The Carpenter’s, ultimately revealing just how easy it can be to mistake living flesh for carved wood, daydreams for reality, and silence for unpardonable guilt."The Arkansas International

"Craig Cliff has brought turn-of-the-century Australia and New Zealand entirely to life in his haunting novel. With shades of Herman Melville and Richard Flanagan, it is a story of dark obsessions and family entanglements that will pull you in like a strong undertow. There are shipwrecks and deserted islands and uncanny illusions. But it’s Cliff’s writing about wood carving and the New Zealand landscape that lends the novel its beautiful lyricism."— Eowyn Ivey, Author of To the Bright Edge of the World

"This is an engaging and deadly smart novel, one that wears a great deal of historical research lightly and that nicely plays out one engrossing theme: the human compulsion to produce ideal images of humanity, and the way those images and illusions are written back onto living bodies and lives. The Mannequin Makers lives up to its cover blurb billing Cliff as a talent to watch – it’s tremendous, darkly entertaining and original from start to finish."
Sam Finnemore, The Listener

"Cliff has crafted a brilliantly structured and evocative story that bravely explores the most complex issues of the relationship between life and art. A hymn to the vitality of life, it's also a reminder of the extraordinary power of art."
— Paul Little, North & South

"It is a story that is at once fantastical and deeply human. Reminiscent of the likes of Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda or Tim Winton’s Cloud Street, there is something delightfully off-kilter, imaginative and original in Craig Cliff’s storytelling that is a reminder that storytelling can be anything it chooses to be... This is a superb novel of parental obsession, the lure of the unattainable and the tragedy inherent within human nature."
Meredith Jaffé, The Hoopla

"This is one of the best books I've read this year... The Mannequin Makers is cleverly written, with unexpected tales of shipwrecks, castaways and sailors. Don't miss this book."
— Linda Hall, APN Newspapers

"This is a book quite unlike anything we've read before - its compulsive readability and historical veracity spin around a grotesque scenario - and is likely to garner wide attention."
— Linda Herrick, Canvas Magazine, NZ Herald

New Zealand cover
"With The Mannequin Makers [readers are] being treated to a tale that has characters and a plotline even Dickens would have been proud of."

"Refreshingly odd."
— Paul Robinson, Qantas The Australian Way

"This is the work of a new major talent, so get in at the ground floor and enjoy him before all the plaudits start rolling in."
— Kevin Pryor, Waikato Times

"Cliff is a determined and fiercely gifted writer, and the attention given to the details of his chosen settings, as a novel about a window dresser surely must be, is impressive... [But] he ultimately clings too closely to his Peter Carey-esque plotline." [Oh...]
Sam Twyford-Moore, The Australian

"[The Mannequin Makers] belongs to the fervid space between magic and realism. With his story of carvers frantically trying to create a perfect reproduction of the human form, Cliff blurs the distinction between subject and object; in other words, the distinction between mannequin and man... The Mannequin Makers is bold and dark."

"A good read and what a good writer! And please, let's have some more from him."
Rae McGregor, Radio New Zealand

"Much like his craftsmen, Kemp and the Carpenter, Cliff has crafted a lovely bit o' story – well built and polished."
Div Collins, SwampThing

"I was hooked in the first chapter and found it extremely difficult to put down."
— Naida Mulligan, Southland Times

Romanian translation - Editura Univers
"New Zealand has its very own writer of southern Gothic who writes to a distinctly Kiwi landscape painted with the darkest hues... an excellent book."
— MvW, Gisborne Herald

"In local fiction, the past is being excavated like there's no tomorrow. But to what purpose?" [Um...]
— Philip Matthews, The Press

"[The Mannequin Makers] contains a quality plot, with believable scenarios, strange and outrageous details, while finely drawn, idiosyncratic characters take us there... Highly recommended." 
Raewyn Alexander, Landfall Review Online

"A racy read and a fine addition to previous books from this writer."
— Jacquie Webby, Oamaru Mail

"La primera novela de Cliff viene a confirmar que Nueva Zelanda cuenta con otro joven escritor talentoso, aparte de la ganadora del Booker."
Jorge Salavert, Notas Literias

A glimpse behind the curtain: the editing process

"Getting edited is a bit like receiving the worst review ever. That one you dream about the night before your book comes out, where someone you respect has mercilessly picked at the minutiae as a way of proving THIS WRITER IS NO GOOD AND NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. There’s no time to talk about the story because there’s so much else wrong with the book. Look, they don’t even know when to use ‘lay’, ‘laid’ or ‘lain’!

But, you remind yourself, this is not a review. There’s still time to make these changes and save face. You convince yourself this, but as with a bad dream, you still carry it round with you the rest of the day — that sense of shame."

From: Notes on being thoroughly edited (on This Fluid Thrill)

Further linkage