Review: The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession

Title: The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession Image

Author: Charlie Lovett

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: 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.

Review: A few months before the book begins, Peter Byerly has lost his beloved wife and fallen into a pit of deep grief. He leaves behind his home in North Carolina and goes to England, where he hopes to rekindle his passion for rare books. One day he steps into a bookshop, opens a tome, and is shocked when a watercolor portrait falls out of the pages. It is a Victorian-era portrait of his late wife, and that moment of discovery is what sets this book into motion. Soon Peter is on a trail of discovery. He wants to know why a painting looks like his wife, he wants to know why a book that he has been given to sell by a neighbor in the village contains marginalia from Shakespeare’s own hand.

There are plenty of secrets underfoot, and Charlie Lovett structures his novel in three continuously running storylines. In one storyline there is Peter in modern-day times as he tries to uncover the truth, in another storyline the secrets of the book Peter has been given unfold starting with the days of Shakespeare, and in the final storyline is the tale of how Peter and his wife, Amanda, met and fell in love.

Despite this being a mystery book with plenty that I enjoyed about it, I found the storyline about Peter and Amanda to be the most beloved. They completed each other in a way that was so beautiful; I always wanted to read more about them, and often found myself annoyed when a chapter of theirs would end and I would have to return to the other two storylines in progress. If I could have had my way I would have only read a story about Peter and Amanda. But that is not to say that that the rest of the book was not enjoyable. I can see any book lover being engulfed in this book. It explores the legitimacy of Shakespeare’s works, rare books, and forgeries. The mystery aspect was a bit dull and easily predictable, yet I could forgive that in the face of all that I did enjoy.

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