The Book Collector is a masterclass in simmering sexuality, macbre fairy tales and darkness. I loved it.
My name’s Dawn and I’m a fairy tale addict. I love them. Always have, always will. From the Ladybird Classics I devoured as a child, to the darker Grimm tales I discovered in my teens and the feminist retellings I unravelled in my university studies, they’ve been a core part of my literary experience. Their beauty lies in their ability to combine magic and threat, a perverse underbelly disguised by a glossy exterior.
It’s that very combination that Thompson explores in her Gothic novel, The Book Collector. On the surface, the life of our protagonist Violet is perfect: she’s a new mother, with a wealthy husband and all of the material things she could wish for. But, it is soon revealed that the spectre of her husband’s dead wife and the portentous book of fairy tale stories dedicated to her, will loom long and dark over any lightness in her life.
“Don’t become the object of affection. It’s dangerous. Certain men want to possess you entirely. Men will do anything to satisfy their desires and this can lead men down paths they are powerless to resist.”
The plot takes a harrowing turn when Violet is confined to an asylum, and must solve the mystery of her husband’s sinister behaviour while trying to determine and navigate her own reality.
The narrative moves into disturbing territory when we discover the true significance of the fairy tale book, and the reader is carried along with Violet as she identifies who is on her side and who is working to keep her in the dark. I won’t write another word about the plot as I want you to savour every twist and turn for yourself.
A nod to the classics
Thompson’s writing is accomplished and confident, as you might expect from an experienced author and Creative Writing lecturer at Edinburgh University. Her knowledge and appreciation of the literary canon of gothic and fairy tale fiction is evident, and inspires much of the tone and content of this piece.
Rebecca came instantly to mind, with Rose’s legacy mirroring the overbearing ubiquity of Mrs De Winter. The fairy tale narratives, which include the The Red Shoes, The Little Mermaid and The Wild Swans, are homages to Sexton and Carter, blistering with rage, blood and horror (just the way I like them!).
“Books take precedence over our insignificant human mortality”.
Thompson’s third person narrative allows us into Violet’s world without prying into her thoughts, giving just the right balance between truth and public appearance. At points, you are never sure what is reality and what is a symptom of Violet’s psychiatric incarceration, which keeps the reader at the perfect position on the edge of their seat.
I devoured this book in one sitting and loved its tone, narrative arch and mixture of storytelling and reality. It’s the ideal read for a lazy Sunday afternoon (when I read it) or, even better, a windy autumnal night.
I will certainly be exploring more of Thompson’s works after this sublime introduction to her wonderfully creative mind.