• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Speculative Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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The Betrayals by Bridget Collins is published with The Borough Press. I absolutely adored The Binding by Bridget Collins so I was very excited to be given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this very complex and rather mind-blowing read.

The Betrayals is set in an undetermined period of history but I’m going to suggest a slightly dystopian 1930s. Montverre is a very private academy hidden away in a mountainous region with admission only available to a select and privileged few. Here students learn the art of the grand jeu, a very mysterious and esoteric game that combines music, maths, literature and philosophy to create an obscure masterpiece that is recognised among the elite and those holding positions of power. To truly understand the game, one has to be someone with an exceptional mind, with an ability to see beyond the everyday, the mundane.

Montverre is overseen by the Magister Ludi. the highest position within the academy. Traditionally an office held by a man in an environment that is male dominated, it is now in the hands of a female, Claire Dryden. Leo Martin had spent his formative years at Montverre learning the art of the grand jeu but he left after completion of his studies under a cloud. He continued on his path to power and joined the ruling political party, gaining a ministerial position. But Leo Martin did not agree with all the changes that the government were enforcing and was dismissed from his role, exiled to Montverre to repent for his mistakes. One cannot but help make comparisons to the rise of the Nazi party when reading The Betrayals. Members of society are rounded up and sent to camps, certain works are censored and there is an underlying fear among the populace. Bridget Collins has created quite a disturbing piece of writing in the descriptions of these particular scenes. It’s subtle but it’s there.

Leo Martin arrives into Montverre, an unwilling guest. He did not choose to return here and is aware that his presence is not welcome. Memories swiftly return leaving Leo remorseful and frustrated. His movements within the academy are somewhat restricted. His days endlessly lay out ahead of him so he decides to return to the grand jeu and continue the study of this really convoluted and strange game.

Chapters flow between the present day and entries from Leo’s diary when he was a young student at Montverre. The reader is slowly drip-fed the truth and as the layers are peeled back, those dark days of his youth are revealed.

There is a presence of another character, nicknamed The Rat, whose story is quite dark and unsettling. Initially we are given very few insights but as the story unfolds, revelations provide reason…and that is all I am willing to divulge.

The relationship between Claire Dryden and Leo Martin is a complex one. They have both sacrificed much to get to this stage in their lives. Leo’s career is in effect over but for Claire, her ambitions are just being fulfilled. Her trajectory to securing her position as Magister Ludi will be the Midsummer Game. This is the main event of the year where Claire must present the ultimate grand jeu to an audience specially selected from society’s elite. This will be her moment of righteousness, her moment to prove her worth. But events are conspiring against her and Claire must keep her mask in place, at all cost.

The concept behind The Betrayals was inspired by Bridget Collins’ reading of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. This book was originally published in 1943 and is described by Britannica as one ‘about humanity’s eternal quest for enlightenment and for synthesis of the intellectual and the active life.’ I haven’t read any of Hermann Hesse’s writings so I can’t make any comparisons but the description is rather appropriate for what Bridget Collins has written. I am in actual awe of the research and the thought-process that went into writing such an intricate and complex tale. The Betrayals is a very, very unique, ambitious and extraordinary read. To be honest at times I questioned my own intellect as I grappled with sections but as I turned the pages I got completely caught up in the shadows and halls of this Hogwarts type of academy.

The Betrayals is most definitely a very different read and, at times, quite a heavy read, with detailed academic/musical terminology utilised to convey a scene. The characters are all intellectuals which does challenge the mind. Bridget Collins is exceptional at creating a picture, an atmosphere and adding a special touch of the bizarre, the magic, the mysticism. Did I understand all of what I just read? Not really. Did I enjoy it? Yes I did. Amidst the complexities there is a wonderful story of real people who have suffered in the most extraordinary fashion. Peculiar and frightening circumstances led to extreme choices but in the end did good win out?

The Betrayals is up there as THE MOST unusual book I have read this year. With its stunning packaging, it is an incredible work of imagination, a tangled weave of unfulfilled dreams and the choices people make to fulfill their destiny. The politics of a tyrannical system are front and centre in this tale, reminding us of another era, another time. The Betrayals is an opulent, and almost intangible, read providing the ultimate escapism to an alternate world where mystery and magic awaits.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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