Saturday, January 14, 2012

Book Review: The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

The Thorn and the Blossom
Author: Theodora Goss
Publication: Quirk Books (January 17, 2012)

Description: One enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever.

When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself . . .

The Thorn and the Blossom
 is a remarkable literary artifact: You can open the book in either direction to decide whether you’ll first read Brendan’s, or Evelyn’s account of the mysterious love affair. Choose a side, read it like a regular novel—and when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself at a whole new beginning.

My Thoughts: Usually when I am reading a story, the format doesn't matter to me - ebook, paperback, hardcover, PDF, or computer file are all just vehicles for the story and quickly fade into the background. But with this book it mattered. Initially, I didn't know how to hold this book. It kept falling into its accordion folds and ending up in my lap. I almost felt like it needed one of those reading stands that you see in medieval book rooms along with the white, acid-free gloves you wear to not damage the pages. The medieval feel supported the medieval story of lovers separated for a thousand years by a curse. The woodcut illustrations that began and ended each story also helped create a medieval feel.

The stories though contemporary had an almost magical, lyrical feel which isn't surprising because the author is herself a poet. Each story is in three parts. In the first part Brendan and Evelyn meet in the small town of Clews in Cornwall. Brendan is back home from Oxford for the summer working in his father's bookstore. Evelyn is visiting the area where her ancestors came from as she finishes up her semester abroad at Oxford before returning to the United States. These two are both lonely and feel out of place in their surroundings. Brendan doesn't seem to fit in with the local boys he grew up with because of his interest in literature and scholarship and their interests in the sea and fishing. Evelyn has been hiding a secret since her childhood and she is quietly defying her family's expectation that the become a lawyer in favor of her own desire to be a scholar and poet. The first part ends after only a week when Evelyn flees the area after just one kiss from Brendan triggers a hallucination of him turning into a man made of branches and leaves.

They reconnect years later at a small college in Virginia. Brendan is a tenured professor of medieval literature who has written a new translation of the legend of Gowan and Elowan and Evelyn interviews for an associate professor position. She had written a poem based on the legend called Green Thoughts. The romance rekindles but Brendan doesn't mention that he had married and that his wife was injured in a riding accident and is now in a coma in a long-term care facility. Evelyn thinks that she has finally outgrown the mental problems that plagued her childhood and sent her fleeing from Brendan in Clews. When Evelyn finds out about Brendan's wife she has another episode of the hallucinations that she thought were finished. She takes too much of the medication she hasn't used for years. By the time she recovers, Brendan's wife has died and he has left the college with no forwarding address.

The final section comes full circle back to Clews. Brendan has returned to his father's house to re-evaluate his life. He is out fishing with his boyhood friends and is working on a children's book about the story of the Green Knight. Evelyn finds a new psychiatrist who helps her to realize that her hallucinations aren't destructive and that she can live around them. She decides that it is time again to write some poetry based on the legend of Gowan and Elowen. This would be a series of ten poems about the lives Elowen lived some with Gowan and some without as the two doomed lovers waited until the 1000 year curse was through.

I loved the way the story of the modern lovers echoed the story of the medieval ones. I loved the lyrical language of this story. I thought the concept of the book design was intriguing and perfectly suited to the story that Ms. Goss was telling. I recommend this book highly both for its art and for the wonderful language.

Favorite Quote:
"The problem, Evie, is that I seem to care more about literature than about scholarship. Medieval Studies asked me to write about the chivalric code in The Tale of the Green Knight. What do I care about the chivalric code? As far as I'm concerned, the poem is about chopping the heads off giants."

"And eternal love," she said, smiling. "Don't forget the eternal love."
I received this book through the Amazon Vine program for review. You can buy your copy here.


  1. So many nice things in this novel.

  2. I found the accordion style very awkward to read-I kept dropping it too! Thankfully it was short or I might have not finished reading it due to the format.


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