Review of “The Cottingley Secret” by Hazel Gaynor

Gaynor, Hazel. The Cottingley Secret. New York: William Morrow, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-249984-4. $15.99 USD. 

5 stars

I approached this book with a mix of skepticism and excitement, especially when a sneaky peek at the author’s notes and a quick Google search confirmed that this bizarre story was indeed based on real events, and for a while I questioned how something like this could happen. But this book and its characters have a way of convincing you that it is within the realm of possibility, even if the media circus surrounding the event came to light due to a hoax. From the general atmosphere brought on by the war to the more intimate story Gaynor invents about a mother who lost her child in mysterious circumstances, these characters don’t come off as crazy, the way I initially thought they would, but more like people of any type of religious of spiritual belief, who have faith in something unknown.

The book also interweaves the past and present seamlessly, giving us the sense that we are reading and learning about the past along with the present-day character, Olivia. herself is a compelling character, we feel that she is also affected by what she has learned through the decisions she makes throughout the book as she represents the legacy of her elders. In that vein, I also found her work with rare books fascinating, both as a bookbinder and a bookseller. There is a moment where she laments that “people don’t value old books anymore,” and she is told that she should “remind them what it’s like to hold a real book in their hands,” and the “magic” of a bookshop. (132) She herself both brings magic to the bookshop and finds it through her display of the fairies, as they see her forming a connection with a widowed writer and his young daughter. And while the relationship does not receive a proper happy ending where they end up together, it is implied that they have a future together, providing yet another happy note to the new life that Olivia is building.

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