Title: The Bookseller
Author: Cynthia Swanson
Narrator: Kathe Mazur
Audiobook Length: 11 hours, 32 minutes
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 3 March 2015
“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?”
Thoughts on the Novel: The Bookseller is one of those novels that begs readers to predict the ending long in advance. More than that however is the ease with which readers will be able to do so. Every switch between Katharyn’s world and Kitty’s forces readers to add the new pieces to the puzzle. This is not normally a bad thing in certain genres; however, in this quiet story, the constant mental gymnastics required to figure out the mystery behind the dreams is anything but good. One can never sink into the story and block out everything else. Most people read to forget about the real world for a while. The constant self-awareness on the part of the reader prevents that from ever happening.
Is she Kitty Miller or is she Katharyn Andersson? This question is the crux of the story. Unforutnately, by the time the novel ends, most readers will not care what the true answer is. In fact, most readers will have already deduced the answer. There are simply too many hints and clues for readers to be able to ignore. In turn, this renders the big reveal anticlimactic and is subsequently disappointing for its sheer ordinariness. Given the slow and methodical build-up to it, one will expect something much more dramatic than what occurs. Following that final reveal, the story ends rather quickly, as if all of Kitty’s troubles resolve themselves. That being said, while generally rapid denouements in stories are disappointing, readers will enjoy the speed with which The Bookseller comes to a close because it provides relief to readers who have held out only to confirm their guesses.
The success of a book like The Bookseller hinges on the reader’s ability to care about and therefore become vested in the main character. With Kitty, readers will find this difficult. For one, there is a general lack of development in Kitty that prevents her from having that depth that will touch the heart of a reader. She explains her past automatically, almost robotically. While this allows readers to get a good feel for her experiences, it tells them nothing about her dreams and desires. One could argue that the story is Kitty’s self-discovery of what makes her happy, but that is not development per se. In Kitty, it is more a dawning awareness of desires that are already there. Her dreams just allow them to come to the forefront so she can recognize them for what they are. Then there is the problem with Kitty herself. She is not the brightest when it comes to understanding her surroundings or reading people’s not-so-subtle body language. The unveiling of certain facts shock her so completely and yet are so obvious to readers, all one can do is laugh and lament her lack of self-awareness.
What The Bookseller lacks in its characters and general mystery, it more than makes up for in its historical details. Ms. Swanson has a penchant for description, and her descriptions of Katharyn’s and Kitty’s lives are sharply in focus. She captures the essence of the early 1960s with her effective use of slang and accurate décor styles and brings back to life an era when one could and did ride public transportation everywhere. This also means she captures the misogyny of the era, as seen by the difficulties Kitty faces as a single businesswoman. From needing a male to cosign a business loan to listening to the demeaning talk that women cannot be successful in business, modern readers will wrestle with some of the language and ideology at work during this era. They will struggle not because it is difficult to understand but rather because it is so far removed from modern-day society. In this one regard, The Bookseller truly rises to the occasion by providing a crystal-clear glimpse into the Camelot/Kennedy years.
In general, The Bookseller is a disappointing story. The premise is intriguing, but the pacing of the story is too plodding. Almost all of the action occurs inside Kitty’s head, and Kitty is not one to take exciting chances or think daring thoughts. She is a good girl, in spite of her unusual-for-the-time-period career and lifestyle choices; good girls just do not make for the most captivating reading. For its historical elements, The Bookseller provides a fun glimpse into a bygone era. For everything else, this is a story which most readers would do better to skip and save themselves some time.
Thoughts on the Audiobook: Kathe Mazur is what saves this story. Her narration performance adds nuances where there are little, creates some much-needed drama, and humanizes a main character who is too one-dimensional to be able to effectively carry a story. She maneuvers through the minefield of diverse characters quite well, distinguishing between the hint of a Swedish accent and a strong Hispanic one with apparent ease. Moreover, she manages to make the 1960’s slang sound natural to modern-day listeners. In the end however, it is still an excellent performance of an unfortunately mediocre story. While she makes listening to the story bearable, she only has so much with which to work her magic.