What I’m Reading: Theodora Goss – The Blossom and the Thorn

I do like my Kindle, and after having owned it for ten months and using it extensively I would not want to miss it. And while it is extremely convenient and very much to be preferred over most physical books which these days are more often than not badly designed, badly bound and badly printed in a miniature font that gives you a headache after ten minutes of reading, there still are (and likely will remain) some things that simply cannot be done with an e-book.

https://heloise2nd.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/t2526b.jpg?w=230The Blossom and the Thorn has a leporello binding, meaning that it is a book that does not have a spine but whose pages fold out like an accordion. I seem to remember having read in an interview with the author that it was her publisher who came up with the idea of producing a book in that style and suggested it to Theodora Goss who apparently liked the idea. The Blossom and the Thorn, a novella of approximately 2×40 pages, is the result and its central subject matter of star-crossed lovers fits the physical form of the book perfectly, presenting each lover’s story on one side of of the fold-out, their stories so close to each other as to almost touch, but still forever separated by the tiniest margin with the thickness of a single piece of paper.

There have been two-sided stories like this before, the most famous one being probably E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Lebensansichten des Katers Murr, or more recently Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions, which also illustrates the double-sidedness of its narrative by means of the book’s physical form, although in the much more common version of a tête-bêche binding.

Presenting the story in a leporello binding is as far as I know unique, and Theodora Goss’ ingenuity transforms what could have been a cheap gimmick into something strikingly significant, the sensual representation of an abstract concept. And it is not just the lovers, there is a host of similar close-but-separate pairings to be found spread throughout the text – past/present, scholarship/poetry, United Kingdom/United States, the two different versions of the Gawain and the Green Knight, to name just a few – they form a leporello of their own, strung together and arranged in a fold-out by the novella. As simple as the story in itself is, it is marvelously structured, and the writing possesses the unostentatious lyricism one finds in folk tales and legends. Because of the density of its form and imagery, The Blossom and the Thorn did not feel short to me at all, despite of it being not many pages long and despite its immense readability which had me quickly turn (flip? fold?) the pages. But there is so much happening on so many levels that there are more wonderful things to discover on a single page here than in many a doorstopper Epic Fantasy novel.

This is not just a cerebral writing exercise, though, but the stories of Evelyn and Brendan are tender and touching, are very human even with all their mythopoetic resonances. The ending is not quite a Happy Ever After, but it is not bleak either, ending on a guardedly hopeful note for both characters. There is an emotional honesty about the novella that blends into the way it tightly interweaves its few fantastic elements with its firm realistic grounding – this is no wish-fulfillment fantasy, but shows that the mythic enhancement of everyday life does come at a cost, and leaves it quite open whether it is worth paying that price or not.


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