As my book club friends would know, I judge books by the cover. I’ll buy a book that pops out on a shelf and catches my eye, if only for that reason.
Such was the case with Theodora Goss’ The Thorn and the Flower, a one of a kind accordion-fold binding in a vintage-y floral scratchboard slipcase. It was a chance find — I have never seen a novel in accordion (or concertina) style before (normally picture books, hand-crafted books, and sketchbooks) , and all I could think of was how good this book would look on my bookshelf!
The accordion structure works well for The Thorn and the Blossom because it is told in two perspectives, one side representing Evelyn’s story and the other side, Brendan’s story. Evelyn and Brendan meet in a quaint village bookshop where Brendan hands her a copy of the Arthurian legend of Gawan (Gawain) and Elowen, marking the start of a love story not unlike the medieval tale. (And there I’ll stop, as anything more than that would be spoilers.)
I’m harboring some ambivalence about the book, because as conceptual books go, the pitfall is often the content. Creators can get too wrapped up in the concept that the story falls a little short.
Story-wise, I did love the literary element the two stories have in common: aside from the legend of Gawan and Elowen from which the storyline is loosely adapted, both Evelyn and Brendan happen to be working in literary fields. In fact, both sides of the book read like a fairy tale, and my favorite part of the book is the beginning (in both stories), when they meet in the bookshop.
I love descriptions of books in books (book-ception!), whether it’s a stack of books, a bookshelf, a library, or a bookstore — it’s like porn for bookworms! — and Thorne & Son, Booksellers is described as such:
When she opened the door of the bookshop, a bell rang, but no one appeared. All she could see were shelves from floor to ceiling, old wooden shelves that looked as though they’d stood there for at least a century, filled with books. Not modern best sellers or the latest cookbooks or decorating manuals. These had leather spines, with the titles stamped in gilt, or the sorts of cardboard covers that had once been popular, with the illustrations embossed right on the surface. Even the few paperbacks on the shelves looked old, their covers decorated in art deco style.
I read Evelyn’s story first, and I liked it. It’s light and quiet and mysterious, with a touch of fantasy that was quite enchanting. I think the book is structured in a way that you can read either side first, but I’m pretty glad I chose to read this side first. I flipped over to Brendan’s story, and it was heavier both in content and tone — Brendan’s read like a cry of despair alongside Evelyn’s song of hope — but it filled in the blanks left by the first story.
What I really wanted, though, was a more solid conclusion, as it is after all, a love story. The story spans a lengthy amount of time in a few episodes marked by years, and as a reader I’d like to see something come out of it. People (*cough* me!) read romance for an implied conclusion that’s still hanging in the balance; they read it for the happy ending. I think it would have been a more satisfying if there was an epilogue to wrap up the journey of the two characters.
I had this book along on a meeting with a graphic designer and during a break we tried spreading out the book across the boardroom table full-length, and it was a fair number of feet, way longer than the 20-seater table. And we got into a lengthy discourse on how the designer’s process must have been, and how the pages were spliced and put together.
While I really loved how the book’s structure mirrors the content and appreciate the effort that must have gone into putting this book together, I realized why there aren’t any more novels printed as accordion books: reading is literally a challenge. You are, in essence, reading a book without a spine and page-turning involves some work so the bottom doesn’t fan out willy-nilly.
All in all, this book was an interesting experience, and I love book ideas like this. Creating new experiences for the reader, ones that e-books cannot replicate, ensure the life of the printed page.
The Thorn and the Blossom is available at National Book Store.