Friday, 18 April 2014

Review: The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookman's Tale
Charlie Lovett
Alma Books
July 2013

I saw this book reviewed by Lindsay at The Little Reader Library way back in July. It stayed in my head for some time and then, inevitably, fell off my radar until I found it on sale one day when I was browsing the Alma Books website. I probably don't need to say that I was pretty excited by this find as I'm sure you can all imagine that I was (it is my standard response to books, after all). Fast forward around five months and I've finally got around to reading it. Here's the description from Goodreads because I would murder it if I tried to write a synopsis...

'Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession.

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.'

I was kind of expecting a 'lovely' read from this. The sort of thing that isn't crazy thrilling or mind-blowingly amazing. Whilst it never did quite reach those peaks, it did surpass all my expectations. 

I love a story with twists and subtle links that give you that 'ah-ha' moment and The Bookman's Tale is full of just that. There are a number of different narratives running parallel throughout the novel which follow the journey of the mysterious copy of Greene's Pandosto. The main story and where the mystery comes out full force, is in the present as Peter sets out to determine the authenticity of the document. There is nothing new in this mystery - it has all the general tropes and excitements - but why mess with a good thing when it works so well. The thing that did keep me going (it is a page turner) is the literary allusions and links. You can tell that Lovett is truly passionate about books and Shakespeare and this made reading The Bookman's Tale even more enjoyable. Particularly for me as The Winter's Tale is my favourite and it is heavily weaved into the novel.

The Bookman's Tale is a wonderfully nerdy piece of literary intrigue. It is well-paced, with a good balance of the literary and the thrilling. It had a tendency to slip into cliche and the relationship between Peter and his wife was a bit exaggerated for my liking (I get it, he really super loved her) but those are the only slight issues I have with the novel. Overall, it was a thoroughly entertaining read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes literary intrigue, Shakespeare and the great Shakespeare authorship debate. 

Reading The Bookman's Tale in April was clearly a subconscious nod to the fact of Shakespeare's birthday (and death day). It usually comes upon me before I've even had a chance to think about commemorating his death and birth by reading or rereading one of his plays. This year, rather pleasantly, I've become aware of it much earlier than usual. I'm going back to Somerset this weekend so I think I may pick up one of my much-loved and battered copies of The Winter's Tale or The Taming of the Shrew and have myself a cheeky read. 

What are your thoughts on literary intrigue? Love it? 



  1. I love, love, love this book! This is the second review I've read that had a quibble with the relationship & I can definitely see that point even though it didn't bother me -- I guess I must have let that bit slide given the circumstances of what had happened to her. Anyway, so much literary & bookish love in this one, it's definitely made my favorites list. Can't wait for Lovett's next book to come out later this year.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one Ellie, I remember enjoying it a lot. Happy Easter!


© Lit Nerd. All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig