Title: The Book Collector
Writer: Alice Thompson
Publishing House: Salt Publishing
Date of Publication:November 5th 2015
”Once I have owned a book I am longing for the next one. Collecting is a creative act. One of perpetual longing and desire. One is never fully fulfilled. Collections live in dread of satisfaction. There is that brief, transitory moment of satisfaction and then it disappears like dust in the air. We live to long after something, we know and accept the power of longing and desire. We are under no illusion that what we want is the unobtainable.”
Violet is a young woman living in Edwardian England, in an era of change. However, this process has nothing to do with her. She is the young wife of a dashing landowner and has just given birth to their son. Suffering from severe postpartum depression, Violet becomes extremely cautious of the world around her. Suspicions, doubts, the disappearance of a book of fairy tales and the presence of the nearby asylum looming over her life create cracks in her seemingly picturesque family. And what happens when obsession becomes reality?
I want you to think of a long, dark corridor. There are closed doors everywhere. Each door you open hides a small portion of the story. A young woman whose sanity has been snatched away, a young mother holding her baby, a book written on the finest vellum, speaking in hushed whispers. It’s a labyrinth of souls and there is no way out…This is the best description of this extraordinary novel by Alice Thompson.
”One scene showed Elise throwing her eleven nettle shirts over her eleven brothers in ‘The Wild Swans’ to transform the princes from swans back into men. Violet could clearly see the youngest brother still brandishing one wing for an arm. The scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ showed the mermaid, having had her tail transformed into legs by the witch, dancing with the prince, but feeling as if she were walking on the sharp edge of swords. Violet could see the blood flowing from the mermaid’s legs. The third scene was from ‘The Red Shoes’. Here the headsman was cutting off the dancer’s feet imprisoned in the red shoes so that she could finally stop her relentless dancing.”
Thompson depicts the dark nature of the most well-known fairy tales in extraordinary detail and connects it to the heroine of the novel who becomes the protagonist in a tragically twisted fable. Hallucinations, manipulation, depression surround Violet like demons. Thompson makes use of the tropes of the Victorian Novel in all its Gothic glory but what makes The Book Collector special is the accurate depiction of the brutality and rawness of a society that bows to decorum, utterly devoid of understanding, always willing to abandon the ones in need. They should either be locked away and silenced or crushed once and for all.
Violet is quite the unreliable narrator. She may test your limits with her way of thinking but I loved her. She tries to become ‘the angel of the house’ only to turn into a doubter. Thompson creates a story full of darkness and disturbing images that may or may not be real. And every page becomes a door…
If you don’t like your books hauntingly dark, this novel may not be for you. But if you proclaim yourself a Gothic soul, The Book Collector is waiting…
P.S.I am against trigger warnings and I never include them in my reviews. We are grown-up readers. We don’t need any kind of ”warnings”. A powerful book is powerful through raw descriptions and intricate themes.
”That night she dreamt of a naked corpse hanging in a room of dark rocks, arms and legs pulled apart in a triangle, an image from the anatomy book she had been reading. The skin had been peeled off to reveal the bloodied flesh of the body, the vein, the muscles. Flies hovered in the air. Discarded strips of skin lay around on the floor. She tried not to retch as she bent over on the floor, the hem of her dress becoming soaked in blood, her pale satin pumps now soiled red in a lacy filigree.”