It’s an absolute delight today to be joining the blog tour for the latest novel by Evie Gaughan, The Story Collector, published by Urbane Publications on 14th June. I found this book absolutely enchanting, a simply wonderful read, and it’s a real pleasure to be able to share my review. My thanks to the author for my reading e-copy, and for inviting me to join the tour.
Thornwood Village, 1910. Anna, a young farm girl, volunteers to help an intriguing American visitor, Harold Griffin-Krauss, translate ‘fairy stories’ from Irish to English.
But all is not as it seems and Anna soon finds herself at the heart of a mystery that threatens the future of her community and her very way of life…
Captivated by the land of myth, folklore and superstition, Sarah Harper finds herself walking in the footsteps of Harold and Anna one hundred years later, unearthing dark secrets that both enchant and unnerve.
The Story Collector treads the intriguing line between the everyday and the otherworldly, the seen and the unseen. With a taste for the magical in everyday life, Evie Gaughan’s latest novel is full of ordinary characters with extraordinary tales to tell.
I’m rarely dazzled by a cover – when you read on a kindle, covers often pass you by – but isn’t this one absolutely beautiful? And I do know that if you read on paper, the pages feature a series of shadow butterflies… But the book’s physical beauty is more than matched by the book itself. I’ve never before read Evie Gaughan’s writing, other than her always entertaining blog posts, but this gorgeous book has catapulted her – with some considerable force – into my list of “must read” authors.
There are two threads here, two heroines a hundred years apart, and two captivating, well-told and exquisitely written stories. Thornwood Village in the wilds of rural Ireland might not have been where Sarah, in the modern story, expected to end up to lick her wounds after walking away from her marriage on Christmas Eve – the drinks at the airport have rather a lot to do with it. But her accidental choice – drawn by a newspaper story with a touch of magic that captures her imagination – really couldn’t have worked out much better. And her discovery of a diary from 1910 in the hollow of a tree opens up a whole different world, as she reads about the life of Anna, a naive and trusting eighteen year old that everyone who picks up this book will fall in love with. And when Anna becomes guide and translator to mildly eccentric American anthropologist, Harold Griffin-Kraus, helping him collect word-of-mouth accounts of local folk tales, the book takes a really different – unexpected and totally engrossing – path.
Now if you were to ask me if I enjoy a bit of magic realism – faeries, the other world, superstition, the realm of the strange and inexplicable – I’d tell you that I probably usually don’t. But this lovely book really grabbed me by the heart. Anna’s voice is absolutely compelling, the cast of characters who surround her so beautifully drawn, the increasingly incredible stories pulled into everyday life alongside the unwinding of her own sad back story and the book’s insight into the story-telling tradition. The emotional content is so perfectly handled – real people, difficult choices and decisions, heartbreak and tragedy balanced with a lightness of touch that’s immensely affecting and so beautifully done. I loved the book’s total Irishness – and there’s a quite exceptional sense of place and time, past and present, with a community’s absolute belief and acceptance of the presence of other worlds, separated only by a very thin veil. And when those worlds collide… oh my goodness, I just loved it.
The writing is so excellent – a clear separation between the third person of Sarah’s story and the first person of Anna’s journal, both equally spell-binding, perfect dialogue, filled with lovely touches of observational humour, turns of phrase and descriptions that you yearn to record in a notebook so you can carry them with you. There’s a touch of real magic to the author’s writing, quite apart from the book’s perfect stories.
Even if this book looks a million miles away from something you think you’d enjoy, do please try it – I promise you’ll be every bit as blown away by it as I was. Total perfection, with a touch of real everyday magic.
Evie asked if her blog tour team could share a personal or family story, an unusual experience involving the supernatural. I could have shared the ouija board experience in my teens that robbed me of sleep for some time afterwards – and don’t we all get messages from the departed through white feathers and particularly bright-eyed robins? Like Evie, I’m a Celt – born and brought up in a small Welsh village – and I think it rather means that stories of other worlds and mythical beings are commonplace, fed to us from babyhood. There are paths around the village I would never walk after dusk, dropping coins over the edge of some small bridges even in the brightest of daylight – just in case, and knowing that if we look after the spirits they’ll treat us kindly and perhaps be there when we have need of them.
About the author
Evie Gaughan is the bestselling author of The Heirloom and The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris. Living on the West Coast of Ireland, which is not renowned for its sunny climate, Evie escapes from the inclement weather into a converted attic to write stories and dream about underfloor heating. Growing up in a walled medieval city, she developed her love of storytelling and all things historical. When not writing, she also works as an artist, creating stories on canvas. The Story Collector is Evie’s third novel.