Alice Thompson's Gothic Novel The Book Collector:
Book Review / Macabre Thriller

Alice Thompson’s Gothic Novel The Book Collector

Alice Thompson’s Gothic Novel The Book Collector:

Publication: Salt Publication

Pages: 176

Price: Click the link

“Once I have owned a book I am longing for the next one. Collecting is a creative act. One of perpetual longing and desire. One is never fully fulfilled. Collectors live in dread of satisfaction. There is that brief, transitory moment of satisfaction and then it disappears like dust in the air.”

Alice Thompson’s The Book Collector is a gothic story of book collecting and the vulgar habit of bookbinding with human skins. At first, I picked up the book considering it as a new variety of The Book Thief, a novel by the Australian author Markus Zusak. But later I discover it is not.

The girl seated in the chair confronting the fires seemed to me the book collector who like Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451  a 1953 dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury is trying to save the books from burning. Again it may be Liesel Meminger in The Book Thief by  Markus Zusak, trying to save a half-burnt book from book burnt celebration on the birthday of Hitler.

Here it is Archie…the man who is obsessed with his book-collecting habits and binding them with human skin…horrible.

Author Introduction:

Alice Thompson's Gothic Novel The Book Collector:

Alice Thompson, born in Edinburg, is a Scottish novelist. Her famous novels are

Killing Time (1990)

Justine (1996)

Pandora’s Box (1998)

The Existential Detective (2010)etc.

The Plot-line:

Archie lost his wife Rose and bound a book of a fairy tale with her skin. That he kept secretly inside a secret chamber and didn’t allow Violet, his second wife to touch it.

“The book won’t interest you. And it needs to be kept out of the light. Sunlight damages the pages. Makes the print fade.”

He even didn’t like her to touch any of his books as they were precious to him and might get damaged by her dirty touch.

 ‘But what am I to do – I love reading – if I am at the house all day?’

Alice Thompson's Gothic Novel The Book Collector:

‘You can embroider, play music. Besides, you have the baby to care for. “Look after Felix then, if it’s what you want to do! But please don’t touch any of my books again.’

The books that he adored so much did not get his concern in respect of the subject matter. He never flipped the pages and read them.

“Somewhere, instinctually, she felt the two were exclusive, that Archie’s fetishistic appraisal of a book betokened his lack of interest in thought. She knew this was not necessarily true but the odd way he lingered over the book without reading any of the words made her wonder what else this obsession precluded.”

Violet was a young girl who felt insecure and confused throughout the novel. She lost her parents at an early age and came to London in search of a job at a dress shop. But she met Archie in a cafe and that meeting navigated her life towards a new journey…”Just another unconscious decision unconcerned with its irrevocable consequences, a choice that would determine the rest of her life.”

Violet’s insecurities took shelter in Archie and they got married. But something was missing in him that disturbed her. The more she tried to reach for him, the more he seemed to recede. And that opaque uncomfortably disturbed her mental sanity to the extreme level that she could not make anyone understand. She was so insecure and baffled at the complexity and intrigue of her husband’s character that seemed totally contradictory and sometimes bipolar. She could not come to a fixed conclusion. Archie’s bewitching smile and dominant personality, formal caring always subjugated her disturbances and at the same time stirred them. She tried to protest, to ask back, to demand but she was so timid, dependent, that nothing except inner conflicts broiled within her serene temperance without any effect.

“How could she be so disloyal? He was her life, their lives are interwoven like a pattern in a tapestry. If one thread were pulled out, their whole life would unravel. He was so precious to her. She could not imagine her life without him.”

Under the placid serenity and peace of relationship, there was something vividly vicious…some dark secret. And when secrets spread their roots within the relationships, faith collapsed.

One after another Violet unearthed the black, grisly, secrets of her husband. But she was kept suppressed and misdirected. This continuous suppression and misleading led her to insanity, hallucinations and vicious nightmares. They send her to asylum. She had to leave her apple of the eye, her son Felix behind.

When she came back to her utter shock she found a new lady, Clara, has taken the charge of her household. Archie praised her profusely and now and then expressed his gratitude for her competency. Violet found something bizarre in her attitude and behaviour.

“Archie had become diffuse around the edges like the prints on the walls. He had started to come back even later at night. He looked the same as usual, slim, chestnut-haired, apparently friendly and open, yet also intractable. He was equitable. But he had lost his specificity. He appeared enthusiastic but something in him had gone missing. Archie had become uncircumscribed.”

She discovered her husband’s aggressiveness when she planned to get Clara married to a person. Gradually she discovered Clara’s clandestine affairs with her husband and their mutual cruelty …their cold-blooded engagement in heinous crimes…most of all Clara’s manipulation of Felix, the son of Violet. She couldn’t tolerate this. When she informs her concern to her husband she found he preferred Clara and didn’t want to hear anything against her.

One after another girls from the asylum were murdered and she discovered her husband’s habit of binding books with the skins of human beings from a bookbinder.

“She felt impelled to bring the ending about. What had happened was unbearable, the realization of her husband’s monstrosity, his and Clara’s illicit relationship.”

She followed her husband’s night journey towards the Asylum. Police came to their house to probe the murder case.

When she interrogated her husband he and Clara injected her to sleep and tried to re-send her to Asylum.

But this time they could not be successful.

before they could send her to asylum Violet put some laudanum in their soup during their last dinner. They felt drowsy. Violet carried them to her bedroom and laid them there, intertwining their hands.

Then she came down and stacked some books along with that book of the fairy tale. She let fire and came out of the house.

“The entire lower floor of their house was on fire, the flames licking up towards the second floor and the roof and into the night sky.”

She determined to collect her son from Archie’s friend’s house. She also determined not to behave anything odd so that they got the chance to send her to Asylum. She promised not to mention the book of fairy tales again.

The fairy tale land where Violet loved to abode:

“Violet had loved fairy tales as a little girl, their dark iciness striking her as containing truths about life. There was a purity of emotion about them whether it was of love, hate or desire. Even when she was a child, they made her feel they were more real to her than the daily poverty of her life…”

Violet loved fairy tales. She always tried to escape from her insecurities to that fairyland. She learnt about a book that her husband had on the fairy tale. But he didn’t allow her to see or touch this. But secretly she in his absence opened his chest and found the book. She with her utter shock found the book is dedicated to his dead wife Rose. This disheartened her. Finally, she realized as her palace of fairy tale world collapsed…

“It is all illusion. The house. The money. The security. It is based on quicksand. On your lies and smoke and mirrors.”

An allusion to the story of Bluebeard:

Throughout the novel, I found the allusion to Bluebeard, a French folktale. Fortunately, I know the story and can relate to it. Bluebeard was a notorious man who used to kill his wives and stacked their bodies in a room. He was killed by the brothers of his eighth wife when he was going to kill her. He gave the key to his secret room to his last wife Fatima and told her not to open it. But she disobeyed. In his absence, she opened the room. Her husband came early from his journey and found a stain of blood in the key that could not be washed away by any means. It was a magic key. In this story, Archie forbade her wife Violet to open the chest. But in his absence, she opened it.

“She decided to find out more about the book of fairy tales. One day when Archie was planning to be back from London late, this provided the impetus she needed. He would be late, so she would disobey him. Childish, this tit-for-tat? No. It was about finding out the truth.”

 Then Archie came suddenly and she put the book of the Fairy tale in a haste and misplaced it. Archie came to know and got angry. He punished her by precluding her from touching any book in the library.

“You don’t understand. Books have to be cared for, and looked after. Otherwise, they will be damaged. In fact, I forbid you to go into the library as well!”

Gothic Quality:

The novel is no doubt a gruesome tale but gothic horror is very finely exposed here. It weaves the horror theme not through crude bloodshed or vicious description of gory elements but by connecting different elements of weirdness throughout the novel, like a jigsaw puzzle.

Alvina’s Verdict:

Alice Thompson’s Gothic Novel The Book Collector is gripping reading for me. The suspense mingled with intrigue psychological tension stirred the plot in a meandering way. The most fascinating part for me was Violet’s character…her mental mayhem and confusion as well as frail existence. Upsetting all the tricks and plots she came out as a powerful woman and took the charge of her life into her own hand.

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Author

munu.ruku2020@gmail.com
Hi, I'm Munmun here and welcome to my book review blog. I'm an English Teacher. But more than that I love to read books and write down my thoughts. I feel we can change the world by circulating the introspections of great columnists throughout the world. You are free to contact me at munu.ruku2020@gmail.com.

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