The Thorn and the Blossom, Theodora Goss

Over the past five years or so, I have discovered in myself a strong and enduring attraction for BOOKS IN BOXES. By which I mean, not that really delightful moment when you have finished a move and you finally get the joy of unpacking your books and organizing them as you see fit (although that is awesome), but rather books that come in boxes. I love box sets of books that go together, especially as a box set means the books all match, which I also love; and possibly even more, I love books that for some reason just happen to come in a box. Recent examples include Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which if it had come with the novel itself, not just the index cards, I would have bought like crazy even though I didn’t like Pale Fire that much; Anne Carson’s wonderful Nox, which I believe I have raved about sufficiently; and most recently, Theodora Goss’s The Thorn and the Blossom.

One reason that I love books in boxes is that if they come in a box, likely scenario is that they’re an attractive object. Books are attractive objects anyway (I say this without prejudice towards e-books), and I like it when a book reminds you of its thingness, that it is not just a vehicle for the text but is also a physical object in its own right. Hence when Ana reviewed The Thorn and the Blossom on her blog and I observed that it not only came in a box but could be read from two directions, I knew I had to get in on that action.

The Thorn and the Blossom is a love story between Evelyn Morgan and Brendan Thorne, who meet at a bookshop in Cornwall and feel a connection straight away. The story follows each of them over the course of several years as their lives pull them away from each other and push them together again and again. The book is an accordion fold, which you can read in either direction. If you read it from one direction it is Evelyn’s version of events; from the other it’s Brendan’s.

I cannot even describe to you how much this format charmed me. In the imaginary world of which I am dictator, authors would be strongly encouraged (not ordered. I would be a benevolent dictator.) to write stories in this way. Initially I tried flipping back and forth between the two stories, to compare; but I found that was no good at all. I ended up reading Evelyn’s story first, waiting a couple of weeks, then reading Brendan’s. However, I don’t think there’s a recommended order in which to read them, so do whatever you want.

There were aspects of the story I liked: it was cool that it centered on the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a personal favorite of mine by way of Gerald Morris; I liked the very dabs of magical realism (small dabs are exactly the right amount of magical realism for me); and I am on record as liking endings where matters remain slightly unresolved. (Unwarrantedly optimistic endings irritate me when the author writes them, but not when I invent them myself because the author has left it to my imagination.)

However — and this may be a complain to take up with the Novella Council — the story was too slight and the book too short for me to engage much with the fate of the characters. The obstacles the lovers faced felt thrown in, and I didn’t have any sense of who Evelyn and Brandon were apart from their relationship with each other. Basically the awesome format of the book was writing checks the story couldn’t cash.

I received The Thorn and the Blossom for review from Quirk Books (also, I discovered when I was looking at my bookshelf yesterday, the publisher of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children).

21 thoughts on “The Thorn and the Blossom, Theodora Goss

  1. I think I liked it a little more than you did, but I agree about the shortness. It could have been so much more! I hope she’ll write a satisfyingly long novel one of these days, because I enjoy her writing so much.

    • I would like to see a long novel from her — I felt like I didn’t have a good sense of her as a writer, because the story was over so quickly. But I’d love to see more of her doing fantasy. The Green Man hallucinations were my favorite thing about the book.

  2. Ooo from the publisher of Miss Peregrine’s you say? I thought the format of that book was charming and the story was fun, but there were story niggles so now I wonder if they’re format specialists, rather than story specialists. Maybe their artistic presentation is a bit stronger than their instinct for complete and satisfying stories.

    • I kind of like that about them though! I love it when books play around with the form — even if the experiment isn’t completely successful, it’s fun and new and interesting to see the attempt. So I’m definitely still on board with Quirk Books and their ways.

  3. Ok, so a lot of people who have read this book seem to love the book and it’s very unique construction, but are less impressed with the actual story. That is really what’s held me back in reading this one. I do also love books in boxes and books that are uniquely bound and designed, but the paltry aspects of the story really keep me away. Bottom line is that I would love to have a book like this on my shelf, but might not be too excited about reading it. Very great review today.

    • If I hadn’t already sent it to my mother, I’d send you my copy! But she was pretty excited about the format, and I just tucked it in with her birthday present when I sent it. I mean it’s in a box and you can read it from either direction. And it’s short, so even if you weren’t thrilled about reading it, you wouldn’t have invested much time in it.

  4. Oooh, I am an avid reader of Theodora Goss’s blog and I have been enviously reading everyone’s reviews of The Thorn and the Blossom. Have you read her collection of short stories, The Forest of Forgetting? It is lovely.

    When I get birthday money I am bound and determined to buy this book. and Miss Peregrine. and some Shirley Jackson. I have a humongous cart of books in Amazon and my fingers get itchy wanting to hit the purchase button.

    • I’ve never read any of her other work. What kind of stories are they/

      OMG Shirley Jackson. SUCH a good use of your birthday money. Shirley Jackson is the coolest.

  5. I love Gerald Morris’s retellings of the Arthur stories!! Were we separated at birth?? I saw this book at a great independent bookstore yesterday, and pretty much made the same assessment as you did. Pretty but slight, but now I’m actually tempted to go back…

    • I nearly bought all the new editions of the Gerald Morris books when they brought them out in new, matching paperbacks. But I resisted. My apartment is pretty small. Oh gosh they just look so pretty every time I look at them. :p

  6. Agreed, agreed, agreed: that books are attractive objects, that the format of The Thorn and the Blossom was charming, and that the story was too slight. I said something kinda similar a month or so ago in one of my monthly wrap-up posts (because I never got around to reviewing the book all by itself). Kinda disappointing story, but I’m keeping it on the shelf anyway because it’s pretty.

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