I have been remiss in not writing about this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and intended to share my pleasure in this book. Unfortunately, things happen.
This book has been compared to Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and A.S. Byatt’s Possession (one of the most haunting books I’ve ever read). I might also mention Chemistry of Tears, discussed elsewhere in this blog.
A book about antique books and the stories behind them is a natural for comparison. The subtitle is A Novel of Obsession, a descriptive that could be applied to the protagonists of all these stories.
In this book, a mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search—through time and the works of Shakespeare—for his lost love. The Bookman’s Tale tells a terrific story — there’s mystery and suspense, murder and seduction — but more importantly, Lovett shows us how it’s all connected, all of this: the reading and the keeping and the sharing of books. It forms a chain long and strange enough to tie a heartbroken young scholar from North Carolina back to the Bard himself, who might or might not have been William Shakespeare.
Bibliophile and antique book restoration expert Peter Byerly is directionless following the unexpected death of his young wife, Amanda. In hopes of getting his life on track, he’s moved from North Carolina to England and is trying to face bookshops again, which he and his wife, once loved haunting.
In a small bookshop, a painting of Amanda falls out of an early Shakespeare folio he is perusing. This inexplicable event starts him along a trail of detection as he tries to establish provenance of the art piece along a twisting path that might just prove for once and for all that Shakespeare was the actual author of all of his plays.
If you are a bibliophile and love old books, this is your book. Lovett describes books passionately and lovingly throughout his novel, as they are throughout the comparative novels. These are all meticulously researched and span generations. All novels jump from the past to the present and everywhere between.
However, this is not to imply that this book is a pale imitator of those popular books. Mr. Lovett might address a similar subject matter, but he chooses to tell his tale in a far different manner from his predecessors.
The Bookman’s Tale is told in a straightforward manner, quite unlike the fanciful prose of Spaniard Ruiz Zafon or the clinical narrative of Brooks. Though his narrative travels through time, the words Mr. Lovett chooses are rather plainspoken, though not without their own melody. He projects heartfelt warmth that is lacking in both Ruiz Zafon’s or Brooks’ novels.
There is a paranormal aspect of The Bookman’s Tale. Specters and more are both described and hinted at throughout Mr. Lovett’s book, creating a sense of expectation that is quite lovely.
The author’s scholarship is impeccable—let there be no doubt of that—but he uses the facts to support the more metaphysical aspects of his story rather than for strict authenticity, and that definitely sets The Bookman’s Tale apart from People of the Book.
This book has it all: antiquarian books, deceit, love, murder, passion, Shakespeare, death…and (spoiler alert) a secret passage. What more could you ask for?