Sunday, 17 March 2013

Book Review: The Curiosity Cabinet

The Curiosity Cabinet by Catherine Czerkawska

The Curiosity Cabinet

I found this e-book free for Kindle, combined with the whispersync Audible audio at bargain price, and I bought that as well. In this case I’m very glad I did, because the reading by Carolyn Bonnyman is excellent. The novel is set in the Hebrides (on a small fictional island named Garve) and it enhanced the total experience to listen to it read in a Scottish accent by someone who could even manage the occasional quotes in Gaelic. (Well, at least to my Swedish ears it sounds right!) (If there’s one thing I find very hard to digest when it comes to audio books, it’s an obviously British book read in a broad American accent...)

The book interweaves two stories:

Alys, from modern-day Edinburgh, revisits the small (fictional) Hebridean island of Garve after twenty five years. She is divorced and misses her son who is on holiday elsewhere with his father and his new wife. On Garve, Alys gets reaquainted with Donal, an old playmate from holidays back in their childhood. In the hotel where Alys is staying, she also gets fascinated by an old embroidered cabinet on display. This turns out to have connection to Donal’s family.

The cabinet also turns up in the parallell story of a woman who was brought to the island three hundred years earlier; and Donal’s forefather Manus.

Compared to some other back-and-forth-in-time novels I’ve been reading lately, this one has less focus on mystery, and more on romance. The two stories, present and past, run parallell rather than being all tangled up. (And yet…) Even if perhaps the book’s strongest point is not the “plot”, I still found it a good read though – and as I said above, listening to it read in the “right” accent added further to enhance the magic embedded in the landscape and history of the islands themselves. I read some chapters on the Kindle and listened to others; but I think it’s a book I’m likely to listen to again just for the joy of a good reading performance.


“You’d be surprised how many facts about the history of places and people are embedded in tales. Passed on, passed down. It’s like when they find shells in rock strata, miles from the sea. You think it’s all nonsense, fairtytales, fantasy. Only somewhere inside the fantasy there’ll be this nugget of truth. If only you can dig it out.”


The Curiosity Cabinet was one of three novels shortlisted for the prestigious 2005 Dundee Book Prize. It has been out of print for some time. The new cover design for the Kindle edition is by distinguished Scottish textile artist Alison Bell, who interpreted her own response to the book as follows: ‘The narrative works on many layers of memory and time, some hazy, some forgotten, but the island’s presence is constant, as a refuge and a place to grow and start afresh. I wanted the colours to be soft, subtle, muted, with hints of turquoise, like the sea up there. It is a gentle book which drifts into the mind’s eye as each chapter unfolds.’

Catherine Czerkawska is an award winning author of historical and contemporary novels, short stories and many plays for the stage and for BBC Radio 4. She loves the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Scottish history and music. When not writing, she also finds time to collect and deal in antique and vintage textiles, especially those with a Scottish or Irish provenance. She's fascinated by costume history and often finds that antique textiles: embroideries, lace, silks and satins, find their way into her fiction.



  1. Sounds like one for the list Monica.

    1. I think it could be. It paints a slightly more romanticised picture than Peter May's books though. For some reason it did not seem to rain quite so hard on this island, and I don't think midges were even mentioned... ;) But I do suspect a few other aspects of island life were still caught rather well. (What do I know, except through you!)

    2. Got it on Kindle now.

  2. I would be tempted to listen to this audio book with the authentic accent too...glad you enjoyed it.

  3. I just can't get into audio books, Monica. I have tried. It's not free on but it still sounds worth getting.

    1. John,see my reply to GB's comment... I think it was a short-term special offer on this one which I was lucky to find. I love it when I can get both the ebook and the audio so that I can switch between them (and continue reading even when my eyes want to rest!)

  4. Have just seen this lovely review, for which many thanks! So glad you enjoyed the novel.

    1. How unexpected to receive a visit from the author, commenting on my review! :) Thanks. I'll be having a look at your blog now...


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