The Button Collector, Elizabeth Jennings
The Button Collector is a book about little things that can come to stand for big ideas and anchor us to life and to who we are. In a beautifully written novel, Elizabeth Jennings presents a woman’s history and life choices through a jar of buttons she inherited from her mother.
The novel starts when Caroline finds a set of buttons in a flea market. These seemingly inconsequential items evoke memories that compel Caroline to take out the forgotten jar of buttons that used to belong to her mother. As she examines the contents of the jar, each button evokes an important part of her life and taken together, help her come to terms with her relationship with her mother and her perfect cousin, Gail.
The buttons take on a special role, marking turning points in Caroline’s life as well as the unconventional choices she has made, many flying in the face of her traditional upbringing. As Caroline inspects each one with the benefit of age, experience, and time, she re-evaluates her life, affirming some choices, while gaining the courage to face and repair her mistakes.
I really enjoyed the pace and structure of the novel, marked by a different button that opened up an entire story that filled in an additional part of who Caroline was and how she related to
I also really liked the characters, especially Caroline. She was surprising, unexpected, and very relatable. Caroline represents a large sector of women who have chosen a life different than that of their mothers and grandmothers, but who still have trouble reconciling the choices she has made in life with the desire to connect with her past and her family.
The buttons work beautifully as a physical and metaphorical bridge that allow Caroline to examine her life choices from a distance and resolve the doubts that she had about where her life has taken her. The buttons help her realize that while she may not have lived the life her mother did, she was still loved, accepted and valued. The buttons tell her that she holds her own unique thread that also forms part of her family and their history.