The Mannequin Makers

1 comments 5 stars

From the winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book, this strikingly original novel is at turns a gothic tale of a father's obsession, a castaway story worthy of a Boy's Own adventure and a thorny remembrance of past tragedies.

Book Setting: New Zealand, Scotland, the high seas
The Mannequin Makers, Craig Cliff

From the winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book, this strikingly original novel is at turns a gothic tale of a father's obsession, a castaway story worthy of a Boy's Own adventure and a thorny remembrance of past tragedies.

“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, from 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.

Available Formats

  • Trade Paperback
    $37.99 RRP
    ISBN: 9781775533849
    Published: 02/08/2013
    Imprint: RHNZ Vintage
    Extent: 336 pages
    Please note: This information is intended for booksellers only and does not reflect the number of copies currently available in stores. If you are not a bookseller and wish to purchase this book, please contact your local bookstore, or click on the buy now button to find a good retailer.
  • eBook
    ISBN: 9781775533856
    Published: 02/08/2013
    Imprint: RHNZ Adult ebooks
    Extent: 336 pages
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"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. As a debut novel from the Commonwealth Writers' Prize-winning author of the short-story collection A Man Melting (2011), 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, NZ Listener

"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,

"Cliff has crafted a brilliantly structured and evocative story that bravely explores the most complex issue 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

"refreshingly odd" - Paul Robinson, Qantas The Australian Way,

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

"Cliff vividly evokes small -town New Zealand's journey through the 20'' century, grounding a surreal story in realism with vivid descriptions of urban and rural landscapes. . . . Thematically, The Mannequin Makers is bold and dark. Bodybuilders and carvers are prominent among the large cast of characters, all thematically united by their doomed struggle for absolute control over the human body. The Mannequin Makers of the title are ultimately the human race, fighting to create an ideal image out of a messy reality, with devastating and inevitable consequences for such hubris. The novel packs a great deal of plot into just over 300 pages; the story is, by turns, an adventure on the high seas, a family drama, a magic realist tale and a literary exploration of what it means to be human." - Eleanor Toland, NZ Books

". . . with The Mannequin Makers they're being treated to a tale that has characters and a plotline even Dickens would have been proud of . . . Yes! Off-the-wall but sympathetic and believable characters, a lively narrative seen from changing perspectives. Recognisable (for local readers) locations and a nicely spaced text in a good-size typeface to cater for oldies. All the ingredients are there for The Mannequin Makers to add to Cliffs reputation as a talent to watch. Let's hope it sells a few copies and stirs the interest of TV drama and film-makers." - Ian Williams, Otago Daily Times

"The result is an excellent book that allows the reader to be swept up in a Gothic tale." - MvW, Gisborne Herald

"This is one of the best books I've read this year. And what makes it even more special is that the author is a Kiwi. . . . The Mannequin Makers is cleverly written, with unexpected tales of shipwrecks, castaways and sailors. Don't miss this book." - Linda Hall, Hawkes Bay Today

Craig Cliff

Craig Cliff

Craig Cliff was born in Palmerston North in 1983. His first short story collection, A Man Melting, won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize Best First Book, the judges commenting: ‘This book is of the moment, and is rightly at home on a global platform. Cliff is a talent to watch and set to take the literary world by storm.' His short stories have been published in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom; one of them being selected for Essential New Zealand Short Stories, edited by Owen Marshall.

Earning Cliff the title of the Sunday Star -Times's ‘Hot Writer of 2011', A Man Melting met with critical acclaim, Nicholas Reid calling it ‘simply the best new collection of short stories I have read in an age'. His first novel, The Mannequin Makers, published 2013. Cliff writes a column for The Dominion Post about his double life as a writer and public servant in Wellington, where he lives with his wife and daughter. He also has the This Fluid Thrill blog (, a Twitter account (@cliff_craig) and a website (

The New Zealand Herald wrote that A Man Melting ‘heralds the arrival of an electrifying new voice on the New Zealand writing scene. These stories are perfectly formed, standalone gems, but the collection also brings together satisfying harmonies as a whole.' In The Short Review, Angela Readman called Cliff's stories unforgettable and noted that the book ‘encapsulates what the best short story should do: resonate and hone how we see our world'. Kylie Klein-Nixon of Kapi-Mana News noted that ‘gorgeous insanity is the purview of Craig Cliff', while Landfall's Kate Duigan wrote that ‘Cliff's quarry is the human heart and he hones in on it with fierce accuracy', these varied views endorsing the verdict of the Commonwealth Writers Prize judge of ‘wry, punchy [writing] filled with fresh images, and providing an engaging mix of fantasy and gritty realism ... These are extraordinary stories about ordinary people.'