When Alma Books contacted me to ask if I would like a review copy of The Bookman’s Tale: a novel of love and obsession by Charlie Lovett I was delighted. How could I resist a book about books, involving a search to discover the truth behind what could be a priceless Shakespearean manuscript? The book arrived the next day and I made the ‘mistake’ of looking at it whilst I drank a cup of coffee. I couldn’t put it down and by the end of the day I had read half the book.
Synopsis from the back cover:
A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search – through time and the works of Shakespeare – for his lost love.
After the death of his wife, Peter Byerly, a young antiquarian bookseller, relocates from the States to the English countryside, where he hopes to rediscover the joys of life through his passion for collecting and restoring rare books. But when he opens an eighteenth-century study on Shakespeare forgeries, he is shocked to find a Victorian portrait strikingly similar to his wife tumble out of its pages, and becomes obsessed with tracking down its origins. As he follows the trail back to the nineteenth century and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter learns the truth about his own past and unearths a book that might prove that Shakespeare was indeed the author of all his plays.
There are three different strands to this book, which interconnect and are interwoven throughout the book: the present day ie 1995 with Peter in England, the 1980s in America when Peter met and fell in love with Amanda, and the story of the Pandosto manuscript, a romance by Elizabethan poet Robert Greene, on which Shakespeare based The Winter’s Tale, from 1592 to 1879.
It began really well and Peter is not the only bookseller involved in the story – there is Bartholomew Harbottle in the Elizabethan/Stuart period and the Victorian Benjamin Mayhew both of whom play important roles. I really liked the historical sections and the details about the book trade and forgery is fascinating. I found the love story between Peter and his beloved Amanda rather cloying. Peter himself, suffers from an anxiety disorder and it is only his love for books and Amanda that seemed to make it possible for him to function at all – a good portrayal of an obsessive neurotic character.
By the second half of the book however, my enthusiasm for it began to droop a little as the chase around England became more frantic and a bit improbable. The many story lines as the book progressed became a series of cliff hangers, culminating in what seemed to me like something out of a cross between a Dan Brown novel, an Enid Blyton Famous Five book and a murder mystery. But, although there are just too many coincidence, twists and turns, and at times it is a bit melodramatic I still enjoyed it, swept along by the plot, an absorbing mix of historical fact and fiction, mystery and romance set in a book lovers’ world.
Charlie Lovett is a writer, teacher and playwright of plays for children. He is also a former antiquarian bookseller and an avid book collector. All this is evident in The Bookman’s Tale! He has a website with more information about the book and the sources he used.