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The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

Meet Violet. Swept off her feet by a disarming encounter with a landed gentleman and bookshop owner at a coffee shop, she immediately falls in love with him, and is quickly married, and almost as quickly with child. When the boy is born, however, fairly understandable doubts creep in. Is her husband hiding anything behind his assuredness – especially when she wakes in the middle of the night alone? What ghost is left by the fact he lost his first wife and baby in childbirth? What should she understand from her own opinions about her new life, her new life's life, and the idea of a nanny looking after it? Just what is going on in her new country pile?

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Unless you take against this book being so obvious and/or familiar, you will like as not revel in the gothic darkness and inexorable drama it conveys so well.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Salt Publishing
ISBN: 9781784630430

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With strong references to fairy tale, through a mysteriously guarded volume of the same, this book certainly feels like it could be a modern approach to one. Of course, with the talk of carriages and no mod cons, it's not that modern. But the fact remains the close look at Violet's life we get brings to mind someone kept locked up in Bluebeard's castle. There's a reliance on the psychological astuteness of the story, however, to make sure we're not talking about the life of a trope or a stereotype. The people in this book have to be, and are, real people, however little we know them, or however blinkered or ignorant the look at them might in all honesty be.

And with separate sections being in italics, regarding something best learnt from the book and not this review, we're in a separate territory. The result of this technique feels very obvious from the start, which I have to put down to a very misguided single sentence, which gives too much away. Regardless, they open the book into something much darker, and that's even when you consider a different analogy for the piece as a whole – this smacks me as being an equivalent not only of a fairy tale's doomed heroine but a sort of Mrs de Winter figure – this could well precede some gothic melodrama (with differing levels of the melo-) of much renown.

And there's a sense this book deserves some renown. I haven't read the author for far too many years, especially when you consider how much I loved her first two books. She's assured here – she knows, for a start, that with so much that seems familiar, and so much that is (by design or accident) too obvious, she has to be punchy and brief in the telling, and the fact that none of her chapters exceeds six pages is evidence of that in action. So many modern female visitations to the fairy tale would baulk at creating such a weak-seeming female character, one which people on either end of the friendliness spectrum here declares is too susceptible, but this book eschews such gender quandaries for the sake of narrative. And in the end, it is a strong, enveloping narrative, and if it had left more doubt in our minds, it really would have been one of much great merit.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

It's a larger family, but there are also dark goings-on in The Past by Tessa Hadley. You might also enjoy Burnt Island by Alice Thompson, Sins by Mary Telford and Louise Verity and Little Nothing by Marisa Silver.

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Buy The Book Collector by Alice Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book Collector by Alice Thompson at


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