Colleen Mondor Reviews The Collectors by Philip Pullman

The Collectors, Philip Pullman (Knopf 978-0-593-37834-2, $14.99, hc, 68pp) September 2022.

Originally released as an audiobook in 2014, Philip Pullman’s short story “The Collectors” is now available in an illustrated gift book edition that will be most welcome to his fans. A compan­ion to His Dark Materials (and the The Book of Dust), The Collectors is largely composed of an evening conversation between two friends, both art collectors, in a genial Oxford setting. The tale takes a gothic turn when the men, Horley and Grinstead, delve deeper into the odd collecting history of two items that Horley has recently acquired: a painting of a young woman and a sculpture of a bronze monkey. Pullman readers will immediately recognize the likely identity of the woman (yes, it’s a younger Mrs. Coulter), who is depicted on the cover and in an interior il­lustration. The mystery here is what the painting means, and why Grinstead is so interested in it.

It makes sense that this title was originally an audiobook; the dark December night and closed room setting are perfect for oral storytelling. The slow burn from curious mystery, during the initial conversation between Horley and Grin­stead, to the increasingly darker and ultimately horrific ending, is the classic stuff of late night gothic. The ownership history of the painting and statue, as Horley tells it, is certainly strange, but Grinstead’s avid interest is what brings on the shivers. How he is connected to the artwork gives readers a nice connection to Pullman’s larger literary universe, but just be prepared – you are not going to expect the ending! With Tom Duxbury’s lovely spare illustrations on nearly every page (he also illustrated Pullman’s Serpentine), The Collectors is a gorgeous visit to a much-loved literary landscape. It’s a quick read, but one to be savored, and certainly a treat worth indulging.

Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website:

This review and more like it in the January 2023 issue of Locus.

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