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).