Theodora Goss – The Thorn and the Blossom

There are some books that just won’t ever be as good in e-book format.  Depending on your e-reader, illustrations could look really nice, but certain books have more to them than just text and pictures. Theodora Goss’ The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story is one such book. If I had gone by page count alone, this would have gone on my Kobo and that’s that. But scroll down to see why I needed a paper copy of this little marvel.

thorn and the blossomTHE THORN AND THE BLOSSOM
by Theodora Goss

Published by: Quirk Books, 2012
Hardcover: 82 pages
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: By the time Evelyn arrived at the inn, she was tired, dirty, and hungry. OR Brendan saw her before she saw him, a girl about his own age, wearing a gray cardigan, faded jeans, and sneakers.

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.


Telling you about this won’t be nearly as effective as showing you. So here, have some pictures:

The book’s subtitle reads “A Two-Sided Love Story” and that subtitle is meant literally. Although you are free to choose whether you begin with Evelyn’s or Brendan’s story, I started with Evelyn (the copyright page encouraged me). The book’s design ensures that, after closing the back cover of Evelyn’s tale, you are faced with the beginning of Brendan’s side of the same story.

For those who wonder whether it isn’t boring to read the same story from two perspectives, worry not. Yes, you may already know what happens when the characters meet, but you only find out about their backgrounds, their motives, their feelings when you read each story. It’s a beautiful way of showing the difference in how we see ourselves and how others perceive us. It also illustrates the misunderstandings that can happen when you only sees one side of a story.

That said, the unusual make-up of the book and the discovery of “the other side” are its stronger points. The story itself wasn’t all that breath-taking, although I did love how mythology and folktales are woven into it. Evelyn and Brendan meet in the small town of Crews and end up discussing the tale of Sir Gawan and The Green Knight. They even make it a large part of their academic pursuits, and I understand why. It’s a tale of eternal love, of a giant-slaying knight, his cursed beloved, and a promise to wait 1000 years to continue their romance. The implication that Evelyn and Brendan themselves might be Sir Gawan and Elowen reincarnated is less than subtle – but intentionally so.

The lesson I took away from this love story is that communication is key. Evelyn and Brendan could have had it much easier if they’d just come out with their respective secrets and talked to each other. While I didn’t care all that much about the protagonists, and their love story didn’t give me any butterflies, it was interesting – in a scientist looking through a microscope kind of way – to watch them make mistakes, learn and grow, then meet again only to make more mistakes. Seeing them go through life is actually refreshingly realistic. And while I wanted them to just talk to each other, their motives for keeping certain things to themselves are understandable.

Theodora Goss’ language is simple but poignant. My favorite parts were the ones involving nature or mythology. Goss is fantastic at creating atmosphere and setting a scene with just a few words. Characterization is not the strongest part of this very short novel (novella? short story?). Considering that each story is only about 40 pages long – although the print is pretty small – this isn’t surprising. I don’t know what went into the decision to print the book at this short length (I’m thinking production costs on accordeon-style books might be quite high) but adding another 40 pages per story in order to flesh out the characters would have been a great idea.

Short as they are, the two stories span over a decade in the protagonists’ lives. After spending a romantic week together as young students, Evelyn and Brendan’s lives are connected through myth, academia, and serendipitous meetings. The ending is left open, but hopeful. It’s not a bad conclusion but I had hoped for at least a hint about Evelyn and Brendan’s future relationship, and even more about them possibly being Sir Gawan and Elowen.

All things considered, this wasn’t a book that left a big impression because of its plot but it did make me want to read up on Sir Gawan and the Green Knight and definitely put me in the mood for mythology and fairies and ancient love stories in general. Brendan and Evelyn aren’t characters to write home about, but Theodora Goss certainly is. My copy of Songs for Ophelia has finally arrived and I can’t wait to dive into this volume of poetry.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

2 thoughts on “Theodora Goss – The Thorn and the Blossom

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    Yep, I agree with everything you’ve said. I didn’t love the book as a piece of writing, but I looooved the mythology stuff and the book format. I wish more publishers would do cool experimental stuff like that. (I get that it’s expensive and that is why they don’t. Sigh.)


    • Dina says:

      There are a few other books that are just really beautiful objects as such. House of Leaves is amazing and S. by J.J. Abrams (which I haven’t read yet) has lots of gimmicks, footnotes, notes in the margins, etc.
      I like this kind of book but I’d take a great story in simple (e-)ink over a boring story with great design any day.


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