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Author:
• Saturday, November 01st, 2014

Sarah Addison Allen was born in 1971 in Asheville, North Carolina, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from a housewife mother and a father who was an editor, a reporter and an award winning columnist in the local paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times. At the age of sixteen Allen wrote her first book: Once From Mood and in 1994 she obtained a B.A. literature Degree from the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Sarah Addison Allen lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she writes her novels. Her first book, Tried And True, was published in 2003 under her nom-de-plume, Katie Gallagher. The breakthrough came with her novel, Garden Spells, in 2007 followed by The Sugar Queen in 2008, The Girl Who Chased The Moon in 2010, The Peach Keeper in 2011 and Lost Lake in 2014. Her latest novel, First Frost will be published in January 2015.

Garden Spells – like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – is a magic realism novel which is a literary genre that tightly binds together unreal elements with realistic fiction.

Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen’s first novel, takes place in Bascom, North Carolina. It’s the story of the two Waverly sisters: the thirty-four-year-old Claire and the twenty-eight-year-old Sydney, who after being separated and scarred by life, reconcile after a long estrangement in order to cast off the Waverly’s bad reputation in Bascom which has lasted for decades and through generations. The two sisters decide to fight the adversity of life side by side and turn their supernatural gift legacy into a blessing instead of an affliction.

There is also their cousin, the seventy-nine-year old, Evanelle, as well as Bay, Sydney’s five-year-old daughter. The four of them, like all Waverly women, are gifted with magical powers and not forgetting the mysteriously prophetic apple tree in the Waverly’s garden, reminiscent of “The Tree Of Knowledge”: “If you eat an apple from that tree, you’ll see what the biggest event in your life will be”.

Claire has a considerable talent for growing plants as well as being a successful businesswoman. She sells and caters to the locals for most unusual food and drinks, like biscuits with lilac jelly, lavender tea cookies, honeysuckle wine, rose geranium wine etc.. All is prepared using her mystical garden plants which have special, bewitching, curative properties. Claire always has a remedy for people’s problems “that could be solved only by the flowers grown around that apple tree in the Waverlys’ backyard”.

Claire and Sydney were children when their mother left home abandoning them and they were consequently brought up by their grandmother who influenced Claire’s magical culinary practice. Claire grows up to be insecure and introverted. At the beginning she is reluctant to open up even to her sister, Sydney, let alone to Tyler Hughes, the newcomer artist living next door. In order to calm the ardour of her loving neighbour and make him forget her, she makes him a casserole with snapdragon oil and tarts with bachelors’ button petals containing magical powers from the plants and flowers in her back garden.

Sydney, the unruly younger sister is gifted with a “premonitory” acute sense of smell. She can smell someone’s presence before their arrival. After completing high school, Sydney leaves home when eighteen years old and returns back ten years later with her five-year-old daughter, Bay, escaping from her brutal husband, David. Despite her young age, Bay, being a Waverly, is skilled as well and she knows where things or somebody belong.

The seventy-nine-year-old, Evanelle Franklin has psychic powers in anticipating events. At any time of day or night, she can feel the urge to give people unusual gifts which appear useless but turn out to be very beneficial at a certain time and at a precise moment.

Bascom itself is a bizarre town where each family, like the Waverley’s, is known for a certain specific peculiarity that goes back generations: the Hopkins young men marry older women and the Clark women marry wealthy husbands and keep them under their spell with their sexual skill.

Garden Spells is an easy, entertaining read, the supernatural associated with horticulture makes the story a diversion from everyday realistic life. Sarah Addison Allen describes her writing style and genre as a “southern-fried magical realism, with a love story” and “fairy tale aspects, all stirred in a pot like a dish”.

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Author:
• Friday, May 27th, 2011

Allison Hoover Bartlett was born in Toronto Canada. She is a journalist with a B.A. Degree in English literature from the University of Santa Barbara in the USA and is a member of North 24th Writer’s group and Word of Mouth Bay Area.

She has written articles for the New York Times, the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and other publications about travel, art, science and education. A. H. Bartlett lives with her husband and two children in San Francisco.

Bartlett’s original article on John Gilkey, the obsessed book lover thief, was published in the Best American Crime Reporting of 2007.

Her book, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, published in 2009, is about book theft and book collectors. It’s non-fiction, written in novel form and the two main characters are: an obsessed book lover-collector, the bibliomaniac, John Gilkey and Ken Sanders, his sworn enemy and tracker.

Sanders, is an antiquarian book collector and dealer and in addition to that, a self-assigned dilettante “book detective”. He owns “Ken Sanders Books” in Salt Lake City and is accredited the security chairmanship of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. After receiving several complaints from book dealers about thefts, Sanders becomes obsessed with the arrest of John Gilkey and is determined to have him put behind bars.

Gilkey loves books as objects, as artistic items, regardless of their content. He doesn’t read the books he steals – he collects them in order to attain a certain stature in society with his pricey rare books. He thinks that by assembling an impressive library, he will forge himself a prestigious identity, which he desperately needs as he wants to appear a refined intellectual gentleman. He never steals a book from a shelf, it’s always by credit card fraud – that way he is under the delusion that he isn’t really stealing the books and consequently isn’t a thief.

According to Gilkey’s way of thinking, “all rare book dealers are crooks and fraudsters” so stealing from them is justified by someone like him who insanely loves books and feels the urge to acquire them but can’t afford them. This shows how much Gilkey lives in his own world and has completely lost touch with reality. The fact that he also wants these valuable books as a source of pecuniary wealth is hidden in his subconscious.

Bartlett questioned Gilkey, his family, Sanders and other book dealer victims of Gilkey’s thefts for three years about their involvement in this whole affair. In an interview, she mentioned the reasons that attracted her to write this book: “ I love books, not just for their content, but the ”thingness” of them and I wanted to explore what that was about”. In other words, how an obsession can turn into a glorified crime.

Perhaps the idea of touching and smelling a book has a rewarding feeling that an audio or electronic book can’t equal, at least for book lovers. As for handling rare, valuable books, it can be an unparalleled, magical experience for an enthusiastic connoisseur to the extent of having a clamshell box made to keep this old printed treasure in. As Gilkey told Bartlett: “when he holds a rare book, he smells its age, feels its crispness, makes sure there’s nothing wrong with it, and opens it up very gently”.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a fascinating story because of its authenticity. An interesting read, which would have been more intense in its impact if the character of the main protagonists were more searched, psychoanalysed and developed. The book would thus have gained more depth.

Gilkey and Sanders psychological behaviour is portrayed briefly by Bartlett as being inconsistent. Gilkey at times appears to be reasonable and sane and at other times seems deranged or irrational in his reasoning. As for Sanders, he appears friendly with Bartlett at the start, before turning hostile and irritated when speaking to her on the phone.

Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable easy read, specially that Bartlett provides a valuable and interesting insight into the world of books and its aficionados, whether it’s book collectors, book dealers, or book kleptomaniacs.

Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment