Quote for Thought: Reality and Insanity in The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

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“Many years later, looking back, she was amazed at the capacity we have for not wanting to confront the truth. How the humdrum of our own lives, the security of habit and comfort, prevent us from questioning the clues that the truth gives us. We can ignore them, make excuses and forget whatever we want.”

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson is part The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, part fairy tale retelling. It’s eerie and disturbing, and I just couldn’t put it down. I kept reading, like mesmerised. To be honest, the prose felt odd at times, almost like it was trying too hard. Some sentences were weirdly structured. And, yet, I highlighted quite a lot of lovely quotes.

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The novella deals with many issues, and one of them is the unwillingness to accept the truth if it means getting out of our comfort zone. This maybe spoke to me because I am mortally afraid of change, but I think everyone can relate to not wanting certain things in their life disturbed.

Violet, the main character of the novel, had this idea of a perfect marriage and a fairy tale love story. But fairy tales are often dark and scary. The novella plays with this idea, the way we perceive fairy tales as something ideal versus the violence that can actually be found in those stories. Violet knows something is wrong. She feels it, but at first tries to ignore it. Her fears come alive in dreamlike visions, and in her semi-conscious state she is able to piece together the truth.

“She had married to avoid pain. She had lost herself in the arcadian countryside to avoid pain. Her whole married life had been a carefully constructed edifice to avoid pain. And it had worked well. Until she fell ill.”

This leads to her being sent to an asylum, where she once again tries to get “normality” back. But at the same time, she meets women whose sad lives seem more real than anything in her life ever did. It’s also a commentary on how women were, and sadly sometimes still are, treated in society, how their stories are regarded as imagination or, in todays terms, “hormones”.

“And for an insane moment she thought, this is no different from normality, just women existing and surviving, this is what happens to women who don’t fit into a world created by men.”

The mental institution serves as an example of what happens to those who don’t want to accept the lies they live in, people who dare speak up. It’s an inherent fear in all people – belonging nowhere, having no one to love you, which might happen if you don’t adapt, or even change some parts of who you are. And I think this is what makes The Book Collector so disturbing and claustrophobic.

Have any of you read this novella? Do you have a different interpretation? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂


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