It’s an age old saying which implores us to never judge a book by its cover, yet I am certainly guilty of this time and time again. In fact, one of my latest purchases happened purely because of the book’s beautiful cover. It was certainly a bonus once I’d picked it up to discover that the blurb sounded brilliant, but I really would be lying if I said that it wasn’t the gorgeous cover design which really had me so enthralled. The cover is a gorgeously intricate design of deep purples and browns interwoven with decadent gold foliage, with the stunning aesthetic even continuing underneath the dust jacket. It really is a work of art, and an inspired choice which readers of the book will understand on a whole new level.
But what is the book actually about, you ask? It follows the story of Emmett Farmer, a young man working in the fields attempting to prove his worth after recovering from a debilitating illness. When a letter arrives one day addressed to him from a stranger, Emmett is startled to discover that its contents implore him to start a new life as a bookbinder’s apprentice. His parents are adamant that he must go. They refuse to acknowledge why, but Emmett knows that they are keeping something from him, or, as he deeply fears, they are ashamed of his recent illness and slow recovery. Yet its not long after starting his new life that Emmett begins to suspect more, the web of secrecy growing ever greater when he discovers a vault underneath his mentor’s workshop. In it are books of every design, painstakingly created and crafted to hold someone’s memories . . . and one of them has his own name on it.
The whole premise of this novel was something that I found really strange and intriguing, and I definitely felt that this was shown throughout the opening chapters of the book. We meet Emmett’s family, seeing their daily activities and getting a gist of the relationships between them, but it is very much sliced through by this shadow of something that is haunting Emmett. We know that’s he’s been dreadfully ill and even now he is prone to relapses, but it is clear that this is more than a typical illness. The family, we quickly realise, are hiding something from him, with heated arguments and angry mentions of curses and superstitions. There are suggestions within the underlying interactions that this is Emmett’s fault, that he has done something to have brought such misfortune to them, and this all works seamlessly together to create an opening which has an abundance of mystery as well as a great depth of character.
I always feel that the mark of a brilliant book is its ability to elicit a strong emotional response from you, be that deep sadness, joy, anger, despair, and the many other feelings mankind are capable of enduring. There were so many times within this novel that I found myself experiencing all of the above, especially with regards to the sense of injustice mingled with a deep infuriation. I was able to feel these strong emotions because of the author’s great skill in writing her characters. They are not only believable and multidimensional, but also written in a way which gives us the time to get to know their own personalities intimately. The relationships within these pages, be them familial, romantic or simply of clear friendship, all felt very raw and honest in their portrayal, without having to overdo it on the length and also the style of writing which we see in many literary novels.
This execution of characterisation also walks hand in hand with the clever pacing and narrative structure of the novel itself. For one thing, although the book mainly focuses upon Emmett, we are also given another character to follow which is very much imparted upon us at a crucial time. This allows for a much more diverse reading, but also widens the story in a way I don’t think would have worked without having these split narrative structures. The pacing is also brilliant to behold, with the sense throughout that the book is building to some sort of momentous occasion, yet also leaving us in the dark as to what is going to happen. It’s the perfect balance between knowledge and mystery which works to enrich the reading experience. It’s also helped by the many twists and secrets within this book, be they subtle or much more obvious in their reveal.
Of course, none of the above would have worked half as well if it weren’t for the authors actually writing. Quite honestly I can fault nothing within her writing style and it was clear from the off that Bridget Collins is an incredibly skilled yet concise writer. She has a very clear style of writing which never feels stilted and is very accessible to follow, yet she is also capable of writing incredibly beautiful and touching moments, especially with regards to the countryside and more intimate moments between people. It’s sometimes the case that books which give us great characterisation and plot can sometimes be a bit washy on the actually writing, but this was most definitely not the case here.
This book was a complete dream for me, both inside and out! If, like myself, you find the premise exciting or intriguing, I urge you desperately to pick it up! The story itself if wonderful, but the underlying contexts surrounding the whole idea of books and what they mean to individual people was simple stunning to both read and explore!
‘Bridget Collins’s novel is the perfect excuse to fiercely judge a book by its cover. Its stunning design is only further matched in its delectable pages’.
Publisher: The Borough Press