The Mannequin Makers

A Novel
“A book that makes grand promises and delivers.”
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“A book that makes grand promises and delivers” (New York Times), The Mannequin Makers is an unforgettable debut novel about art, imitation, and obsession.

Excitement is rare in the small town of Marumaru, New Zealand. So when a young Maori man arrives on the morning train one day in 1903—announcing the imminent visit of a famous strongman—the entire town turns out to greet him, save one. Colton Kemp, a department store window-dresser, is at home, watching his beloved wife die in premature childbirth. Tormented by grief, he hatches a plan to make his name and thwart his rival, the silent and gifted Carpenter: over the next sixteen years he will raise his newborn twins in secrecy and isolation, to become human mannequins in the world’s most lifelike window display.

From this moment of calamity emerges a work of masterful storytelling, at once wildly entertaining and formally ambitious. The novel leaps fearlessly from the epistolary to the castaway narrative to the picaresque, as Kemp’s plot goes awry and as he, his children, and the Carpenter converge in the New Zealand hinterland.

The Mannequin Makers is an adventure-filled and thoroughly delightful yarn, introducing Craig Cliff, one of international literature’s most promising young talents, to American audiences.

Publish Date
6 × 9 × 1 in
11 oz

Craig Cliff

Craig Cliff is the author of The Mannequin Makers, a novel, and A Man Melting, a collection of short stories, which won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

Praise and Prizes

  • “A book that makes grand promises and delivers … [The Mannequin Makers] takes flight in a way that comes close to magic realism, with the characters and events falling into a gothic swoon… . Craig Cliff adds to the canon, but with such ambition, creativity and sheer energy that he shows there’s still something new to say.”

    New York Times
  • ”[The Mannequin Makers] is 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.”

    Los Angeles Review of Books
  • “Cliff altogether offers a quirky voice that falls outside of much American commercial fiction. This esotericism, along with determined prose, clever bits of timeless social critique, and an eye for setting, makes The Mannequin Makers a pleasurable read.”

    Chicago Review of Books
  • “Craig Cliff writes in his acknowledgments that the inspiration for this first novel, a historical fiction, was sailing ships and department stores. That combination results in a wacky two-pronged plot, at times moving, often entertaining and exuberantly told.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • “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.”

    Publishers Weekly
    (starred review)
  • “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 desert 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
  • “A grim and glorious meditation on the cruelty of fate.”

  • “In Craig Cliff’s world everything breathes… . He dresses loneliness in its most dramatic garb, lacing it with vice, virtue, and dispassion, and casting it all in the gnawing shadow of grief: for lost loved ones, for rash decisions, for the isolation that comes with victimhood.”

    The Arkansas International
  • “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 … Craig Cliff as a talent to watch—it’s tremendous, darkly entertaining and original from start to finish.”

    New Zealand Listener