Source: Review copy
Publication: 14 June 2018 from Urbane Publications
Thornwood Village, 1910. Anna, a young farm girl, volunteers to help an intriguing American visitor, Harold Griffin-Krauss, translate ‘fairy stories’ from Irish to English.
But all is not as it seems and Anna soon finds herself at the heart of a mystery that threatens the future of her community and her very way of life…..
Captivated by the land of myth, folklore and superstition, Sarah Harper finds herself walking in the footsteps of Harold and Anna one hundred years later, unearthing dark secrets that both enchant and unnerve.
The Story Collector treads the intriguing line between the everyday and the otherworldly, the seen and the unseen. With a taste for the magical in everyday life, Evie Gaughan’s latest novel is full of ordinary characters with extraordinary tales to tell.
First off, can we talk about the design of the book please? I love the cover and was enchanted by the leaves and butterflies that inhabit every one of the printed pages, without ever inhibiting the words. This is a beautiful book to hold and keep.
The Story Collector is a gentle, charming tale spanning the lives of two women who lived 100 years apart, but whose lives are linked through Ireland, its folklore and faeries.
Sarah’s marriage to Jack is over after a traumatic event splinters their lives and leaves them in different emotional places struggling with their lives. Drinking too much and unwilling to return home to either her parents or her sister to be fussed over, Sarah makes a half cut, last minute decision to go to Ireland just to get away from everything and everyone.
Arriving in County Clare on St Stephen’s day, she is fortunate to find someone with a cottage available for rent and she digs in, ready to deal with her pain in isolation. Then she finds a book. Not just any book, but Anna’s diary from 1912. Anna is a young Irish country girl, bright as a button; the daughter of a poor farmer and his wife. Anna was born with an inquisitive nature and there’s little she does not know about her surroundings.
As Sarah reads, she learns about Anna and her meeting with Harold, a slightly odd American scholar, researching folk tales from Ireland and across the world. He is interested in the anthropology of such stories about ‘The Good People’ as Anna calls them, though from the stories they hear, it’s known that they are not always of good intent. With her parents’ blessing, Harold engages Anna to introduce him to local people so that he can research his stories through first hand word of mouth.
There’s a strong link between contemporary Sarah and Anna. Both are strong women; both are looking for something to assuage their grief and help make them whole again. Through Anna, Sarah learns what life in early 20th Century Ireland was like, with dire poverty and the beginnings of the Home Rule Bill being thwarted.
Anna and her family live in the shadow of Thornwood House, home to the privileged Hawleys, the aristocracy of the area. Haughty, greedy and tainted with stories of cruelty and malevolence, this family and the house they live in cast a grim creepy shadow over the whole area.
Part historical fiction, part romance, part magical realism, The Story Collector is a light and easy read which follows a well-trod path, but it is written with a lightness of touch. It has some genuinely unpredictable moments and a love of Ireland and its language and people that shines through.
The parallels between contemporary Sarah and historical Anna are strong and fascinating and I passed a very pleasant summer’s day engaged in this magical story and Evie Gaughan’s softly lyrical prose.
Verdict: a charming and delightful read with a dark undertone.
About Evie Gaughan
Evie Gaughan’s debut novel, The Heirloom, is a fusion of historical and contemporary fiction set in Ireland and The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris, is a magical story about a French boulangerie.
Living on the West Coast of Ireland, which is not renowned for its sunny climate, Evie escapes from the inclement weather into a converted attic, to write stories and dream about underfloor heating. Growing up in a walled medieval city, Evie developed a love of storytelling and all things historical. With a taste for the magical in everyday life, her stories are full of ordinary characters with extraordinary tales to tell.
Evie is also an artist and has been known to hold the odd exhibit of her works in her native Galway.
You can follow Evie on Twitter @evgaughan