I received a copy of The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson in exchange for an honest review.
A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams.
Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .
Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.
Then the dreams begin.
Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.
Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?
As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?
Cynthia Swanson’s premise in The Bookseller isn’t original, but then again not much is anymore. We’re working with centuries of the written word here. But that doesn’t mean Swanson isn’t a creatively cunning and crafty author with a gem of a story. (In fairness, I should disclose that I loved the movies Sliding Doors and Passion of the Mind. If you weren’t a fan of those, you may not be a fan of this literary beauty either.)
The Bookseller, though set in the 1960s, is fresh, modern and relevant. Swanson has a deft hand, using the nuances of personal and social politics to create a character with dimension and depth. Kitty/Katharyn is beautifully conceived to be at once aware and bewildered by her station in life and the circumstances that inform it. This current period of the new millennium seems to be ushering in another civil rights era, a new wave, and Swanson writes into this with an awareness of the social climate and the dedication of a storyteller, drawing parallels that are brilliantly thought provoking.
But even without these electric undercurrents, The Bookseller is an engrossingly entertaining read. It is so easy to get swept away by Kitty’s dream and to envy her double life. How many of us wish we could go back and just tweak that one moment that could have changed our lives in every way we want? The possibility of that seems so sweet. But there is a price to pay in every reality, and this is a lesson our heroine learns. I wanted to know how so badly, I jumped to the back—I never do that unless I just can’t help myself.
This is one I will keep on my shelves forever.