Tuesday 17 December 2019

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson @saltpublishing #TheBookCollector #IndiePublisher #BookReview

In Edwardian England, Violet has a fairy tale existence: loving husband, beautiful baby son and luxurious home. She wants for nothing. But soon after the birth of her baby the idyll begins to disintegrate. Violet becomes obsessed by a book of fairy tales her husband has locked away in a safe. Paranoid hallucinations begin to haunt her and she starts to question her sanity. Meanwhile, vulnerable young women are starting to disappear from the nearby asylum. Soon Violet herself is interned in the asylum for treatment only to discover, on coming out, that her husband has hired a nanny while she has been away, the beautiful, enigmatic Clara. The brutality of the asylum is nothing compared to the horrors that now lie in wait.

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson was published in paperback by Salt on 5 November 2015.

A few months ago, I decided that I would buy at least one book per month from an Independent Publisher. The Book Collector was my first purchase.

This is a slim novel at just under 180 pages. However, I didn't find it a 'quick' read at all; it's a story to savour with characters who the reader would like to know more about and a twisty plot that conjures up a great dose of gothic horror.

It's not a horror story, but it is filled with horror after horror. The story is seen through the eyes of Violet, and it's never quite clear how much of her tale is real, or imagined. Violet is one of the most unusual and compelling  narrators that I've read for a long time, I questioned her and her actions throughout the story, but also backed her and wanted her to rise ceremoniously over her strange husband and their peculiar Nanny, Clara.

Violet was young and quite innocent when she met and married Lord Archie Murray. He's older and his first wife Rose and their young child died, it's clear to the reader that Archie sees Violet as his wife's replacement, as he mutters, on their first meeting; 'Rose, Rose. By any other name.'

We meet Violet properly as she waits at home for Archie to return. They now have a small son, Felix and Violet feels happy, but is not content. She is curious about the deceased Rose and discovers a book of fairy-tales in Archie's safe, that is dedicated to the dead woman.

This seems to be a turning point for Violet and she quickly descends into what appears to be madness and Archie is quick to have her committed to the nearby lunatic asylum for treatment. Meanwhile female patients from the asylum are disappearing, with bodies of some discovered nearby.

This is a creepy story, with more than a hint of darkness and suspicion. The author cleverly leaves most of Violet and Archie's back stories blank, giving them both an air of mystery that pervades the story. There's also Nanny Clara; a wonderfully drawn character who again we know little about but whose presence on the pages is perfectly done.

A chillingly haunting story from a talented author. I will certainly be reading more from Alice Thompson in the future.

Alice Thompson was born and brought up in Edinburgh. 
She was the former keyboard player with post-punk eighties band, The Woodentops and joint winner with Graham Swift of The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for her first novel, Justine
Her second novel, Pandora’s Box, was shortlisted for The Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year. 
Her other novels are PharosThe Falconer and most recently Burnt Island. 
Alice is a past winner of a Creative Scotland Award. 
She is now lecturer in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University.

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