Tuesday, May 24, 2016
The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett
Published May 2013 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for a long overdue honest review
Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.
There's a lot going on in this book: a love story, a tale of grief, and more than one mystery told through multiple characters and points in time. Parts of it worked better for me than others. I had a hard time buying into the idea that Peter was as crippled by social anxiety and friendless as Lovett portrayed him; because that came up again and again throughout the book, it kept niggling at me. And the main love story piece didn't work as well for me as the mystery pieces, although it might have made a touching story on its own. That might have been because it kept taking me out of the Shakespeare mystery which I did enjoy quite a lot. In fact, I found myself racing through the book in the final 100 pages.
Having read Lovett's First Impressions, and enough other mysteries to know that things usually aren't what they appear to be, I was certain I knew where the story was going. Lovett makes a big point of trying to steer readers in the wrong direction and any reader of mysteries will know that they need to be looking in another direction. Still, he managed to surprise me, maybe because I was so certain I knew who would end up being the bad guy.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story of one book's journey through time and being immersed in the world of bibliophiles. The politics, the deceit, and controversy all made for a good read even though it was often difficult to remember all of the names and where I was in time. If you read it, you will come across a list in a book that Peter discovers. I highly recommend you tab that so you can refer back to it as you read. I would definitely recommend The Bookman's Tale to those who love reading about the history of books and the book world.