The Bookman’s Tale reveals a bibliophile’s dream

Since I recently finished reading The Bookman’s Tale, I felt compelled to describe the experience. As a story about a bibliophile living a bibliophile’s dream, this book speaks most vividly to those with similar tastes. If reading descriptions of dusty old bookshops or learning about literary personalities sparks your interest, it is safe to say this book will cause spontaneous bursts of excitement.

The Bookman’s Tale, written by Charlie Lovett, is a rich, imaginative and quick-paced story that takes readers through a wide swath of literary history. Ultimately, the novel focuses on Peter Byerly, a quiet, socially awkward antiquarian bookseller, who moves from North Carolina to Kingham, England after his wife’s death and discovers a mysterious photo as well as a book of potential literary fame.

Since the novel travels back and forth in time, this can give a sense of misdirection and confusion. Earlier time jumps are distinct enough to create suitable background ambiance, but later time jumps are scattered and seem to throw out too many obscure names for clarity. The flashbacks of Peter’s romance and eventual marriage to Amanda are delicate and heartfelt. The writing is compassionate and understanding, and it adds great strength to the plot. The characters of Peter and Amanda are easy-to-like and vividly portrayed.

Add in an introduction to the book in question, the Pandosto, and the novel soon paints a series of scenes filled with literary figures. Along the way, the quest to uncover the real truth behind the unknown photo tightly weaves itself into the desire for authenticating the Pandosto. Is the Pandosto copy authentic or a clever forgery? Lush detail into the art of conserving antique books is convincing played off against the details of how to forge a book.

Family secrets and generational rivalry add a thrilling spark that pulls readers into a dark, hidden motive. When Peter meets Liz Sutcliffe, a series of accidents threaten their very lives. Liz is charming and full of quirks, but her shifting character traits prevent a fully developed understanding. At this point the pace of the novel rapidly quickens, and the sudden shifts in time are overdone. Descriptions of forgery artists, while referring to the Pandosto and other works, present a muddle of images. Eventually the plot becomes a trifle simplistic, and the prose leans too far into action and too far from emotion.

All in all, The Bookman’s Tale was an entertaining read as well as an enlightening look into the world of other writers, book dealers and book repair. The first half of the book was the most interesting, although the plot did provide enough mystery for a race to the finish.    

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