abcdevious, autumn, book review, brendan, curse, elowen, evelyn, fairytale, gawan, harry potter, libraeve, love-story, modern, modern-day, nicholas sparks, reads, romance, scott mckowen, short stories, short story, the notebook, the thorn and the blossom, theodora goss
This is the book you want perched on your knees as you lounge in a window-seat, buried in hot-water-bottles, with the autumn sun shining through as golden as the tea steaming next to you. Dubbed ‘A Two-Sided Love Story’, The Thorn and The Blossom is a modern-day fairytale romance we’ve all been subconsciously waiting for. I am so very glad it has been unearthed from a tangled flowerbed infested with humbugs.
It has been published by Quirk, aptly-named as it boasts a unique accordion-fold binding that realises the idea of ‘star-crossed lovers’, to whom Goss dedicates this story. The lovers’ stories run parallel, literally. Harry Potter fans, it ‘opens at the close’, for as soon as you reach the end you can begin again anew. It’s boy-meets-girl or girl-meets-boy. Your choice.
Some may be apprehensive about essentially reading the same story twice- be not afeard. Precious revelations- such as how others perceive us and we perceive ourselves- are subtly accumulated upon reading both sides of the story, which did not prove wearisome in the least.
At its premise, it recounts the meeting of two university students, one from a fishing town in Cornwall, the other from America, which effectively serve as the ‘faraway lands’ for the protagonists. Simmering and glimmering beneath the surface of this is the Arthurian legend of the sorceress Queen Elowen and the gallant Sir Gawan, who are separated for one thousand years by a curse from a jealous giantess.
Illustrations by Scott McKowen
Goss achieves the simplistic, sing-song style characteristic of fairytales, serving up all the salient, interesting stuff with swiftness and economy. An impression is conjured that indulges the reader with freedom and faith to emboss to their heart’s content. Goss must be highly commended for extracting her ego from the prose almost entirely, which does not make the writing plain. Adjectives are sown in delicately and pertinently. In reinventing some Grimm classics, Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials) noted that he felt a ‘refreshing change’ in bypassing ‘complicated, profound descriptions of feelings’ for ‘celerity’, which consequently liberates the reader’s imagination. This can be seen in the following extract, which glows with a sylvan charm resonant of any familiar fable. Some may note also a similarity to Nicholas Sparks’ nostalgic and sweet, The Notebook.
‘Fishing kept him occupied, gave him an income. When he wasn’t out in the boat, he worked on his father’s house, patching the holes he found in the roof, clearing the brush that had grown up around it. It was some ways out of town, at the edge of the forest, and he grew to like the silence. He could hear birds, squirrels. And sometimes, if he sat still long enough, a fox would come out of the forest and stare at him, its red fur vivid against the tree trunks.’
The Thorn and The Blossom should not, however, be dispelled as cliché. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to cynic and romantic alike. There is no force-feeding of pathos. Thanks to Goss’ ingenuity in not haranguing the mantra of ‘meant-to-be’, the reader rules in her realm, deciding amongst other things how or even whether Queen Elowen and Sir Gawan are correlated with Brendan and Evelyn. By playing with commonly-held anxieties and ambitions, Goss invites the reader into a safe space where we can confess our true selves.
Illustrations by Scott McKowen
Transience is marked by a structure which skips significant periods of time in a blink, a canny metaphor for life. At times, admittedly, this may dilute the impact of emotions necessary for some readers to truly immerse themselves. But this is, I feel, balanced by the reader’s ability to project their own preferences at will, to react vicariously, almost for the characters.
The story journeys through settings harking back to fairytales- Evelyn’s heart is at one point ‘beating with the forest itself’, which is a ‘great, green cathedral’. But we are markedly moved away from this to, for example, a dubiously pink-painted hospital. In this way, Goss- a consummate craftswoman- has conceived both a homage and an antithesis. Her writing evokes the question of whether life can be a fairytale. Either way, reading this was a dream.