The Betrayals is Bridget Collins latest brilliant – and beautiful – novel. It’s also NB’s Featured Recommendation for Winter 2020. Read on to discover what our Managing Editor, Jade Craddock, made of Collins’ latest work, and to read our list of book club discussion questions. Happy Reading!

Reviewed by Jade Craddock

Following her breakthrough adult fiction debut, The Binding, Bridget Collins returns with her latest offering, The Betrayals. And, first things first, the designers behind the cover (and that of The Binding) deserve particular mention for creating a stunning tableu for the book. Whoever said don’t judge a book by its cover clearly hadn’t seen this one. On to the story, and without doubt Collins conjures up an imaginative tour de force that sees protagonist Leo Martin, a disgraced politician return to his childhood school, Montverre, a bastion of learning for the national game – the grand jeu, where Magister Dryden has become the first ever Magister Ludi. With me so far… Perhaps not. In truth, the plot and the context of the novel, particularly surrounding the somewhat vague grand jeu, sounds impossibly elusive, and there is a sense in which it is difficult to follow the exact ins and outs of the narrative, but it is intentionally so, allowing for the reader’s own imagination to run free, and enjoy the spectacle regardless. At its heart the novel is much simpler, though; a story of childhood rivalry, ambition, friendship and, ultimately, love. As such, readers can either engage fully with the rich tapestry of the novel, getting to grips as much as possible with the unspecified context, the game, the mysterious figure of the rat, or simply revel in the universal themes that emerge. Either way, Collins’ writing is original, interesting and arresting, and this is certainly a book that encourages discussion, so one to read and share with others.

Reading group questions

  1. The novel begins and ends with chapters from The Rat, and several chapters throughout are given to this character, what did you make of The Rat and the fact that the story is bookended in this way?
  2. What were your impressions of Leo? Did the diary entries affect the way you judged and perceived him? By the end of the novel, was he a character you related to/empathised with?
  3. Magister Dryden is the first female Magister Ludi and one of the few female characters in the novel, how did you perceive her and the circumstances of her past?
  4. At the heart of the novel, is the grand jeu, but this is never fully explained, how did this affect your enjoyment of/engagement with the story? Did you have your own ideas about what the grand jeu entailed/signified?
  5. How fitting was the novel’s title? What did you consider to be the biggest betrayal in the book?
  • The Borough Press (12 Nov. 2020)
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0008272166