The Bookseller – Cynthia Swanson

John Murray Press

Rating: 5 stars

I love a Sliding Doors type of novel, one where two or more alternative plot lines mingle and interweave, and confuse the reader into not knowing which – if any – of the versions is reality. Or indeed whether there are multiple realities.

The Bookseller is Cynthia Swanson’s first published novel. Set in Denver in the 1960s, in the opening storyline in 1962 Kitty Miller and her friend Frieda own a bookshop which is struggling to keep going with the rapid expansion of shopping malls set out of town meaning ever-dwindling numbers of customers make their way to their little shop. But they are such good friends that despite the constant money worries they still enjoy what they do and each other’s company. Kitty lives alone with her cat, Aslan, and has a very close relationship with her parents, who are away on the holiday of a lifetime.

Then Kitty starts to get deeply unsettling dreams, ones which seem so real that each day she finds it increasingly hard to cope with the realities of her life.

In her dreams it is 1963, and Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars; they have a rich and fulfilled life with children, many good friends and a beautiful home. In her dreams Kitty feels at times confused as to who or where she is but finds she automatically seems to (mostly) say the right things to each family member, each friend, each shopkeeper she meets. Swanson is excellent on the 1960s’ period details of how people lived or aspired to live.

The lines between the waking and dreaming worlds inevitably soon start to blur and Kitty in her 1962 world tries to make sense of her dreams, often deliberately going out of her way to find people and places she’s been in her dreaming world. She treks around Denver looking for the house where Katharyn lives, the shops she frequents, the sister-in-law who is a hairdresser. In short, she has become obsessed and, like the readers, feels confused about what is dream and what is reality.

This was an unexpected Christmas gift, and one which I devoured before New Year and thoroughly recommend. I can’t and won’t give away any more of the plot. All I can say is: well worth reading.

Daisy Chapter and Verse

Reviewed by Daisy

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