The Bookseller: Time Travel or Alternate Time Line?

bookseller The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson started out capturing my attention. If it’s a story about time travel or an alternate time experience, I am in.

This is a quote from Amazon: “A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams.” Ok, so now I am off to request Sliding Doors.

There are two time lines but the time differences are minor, 1962 and 1963. It’s not like the Outlander series where the main character goes back in time 100 or more years. The main characters, Kitty and Frieda, are in both time lines but it appears Kitty is the only one “traveling.” The book is set in Denver although there isn’t much description about Denver. For the lack of description the venue could be Anytown, USA. . Kitty drifts between the two years and has a slightly different life in each.

In 1962 Kitty is a single woman, running a failing bookstore with her best friend Frieda. They enjoy the time they spend together and are trying to think of ways to keep it going. Being single she enjoys a life where she isn’t tied to a schedule and comes and goes as she wishes.

When Kitty goes to sleep she “awakens” in 1963 in a home she is unfamiliar with a loving husband and three children. Her husband Lars clearly loves her dearly, showing affection and stroking her cheek as she wakes up. He calls her Katharyn instead of Kitty. She seems to instinctively know what to do when her daughter has a fever, fetching aspirin and cold towels and playing mother as if she does it every day. Kitty is childless in her “real” life so is amazed that she knows where things are located in this house and what she needs to do with her sick daughter. Then she wakes up and is single again.

There isn’t a husband named Lars. Later in the book Kitty looks for the address of the home she lives in with Lars and finds a vacant lot. Homes are built up around the lot in this neighborhood but the one she shares with Lars isn’t there.

Kitty’s parents play a good sized role in both timelines. In 1962 they are on vacation in Hawaii, her mother sending postcards several times a week. Kitty reads these cards all the time and misses her parents. In 1963 Katharyn’s parents are very involved in the lives of their grandchildren.

This book kept my interest and I read it in a pretty good time because I was invested. Which world is the real world? Or do both exist in different time lines and Kitty or Katharyn will have to choose which life she wants? Near the end of the book I felt it fizzled out. It wasn’t a satisfactory ending for me but then I asked myself, how would I want it to end.

SPOILER – My theory on what was at work here:

I don’t know what the author intended but my thoughts are that Kitty/Katharyn had a nervous breakdown. The life she chose, or the real world, was the one where she was married to Lars. In that reality her parents had died. In the 1962 world, her world without a husband and children, her parents were still alive and strong influences in her daily life. My theory is she couldn’t deal with their deaths and had a breakdown, reliving or conjuring their existence in her mind.

But, as I said that is my theory and I have no idea what the author intended. Would I read more of Cynthia Swanson’s work? Absolutely. I enjoyed 95% of The Bookseller and since it did keep my interest I would certainly read more by this author.


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