The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession

Image of The Bookman's Tale
Release Date: 
May 28, 2013
Reviewed by: 

“. . . a treat.”

Bibliophile and antique book restoration expert Peter Byerly is adrift following the unexpected loss of his young wife, Amanda. In hopes of pulling the threads of his life together, he’s moved from North Carolina to England and is trying to face bookshops, which he and his wife held in high esteem, once again.

In a small bookshop, he’s staggered to find a painting of Amanda’s doppelganger inside an early Shakespeare folio. His find starts him along a path of discovery as he tries first 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.

A book about antique books and the stories behind them is a natural for comparison with Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. There are certainly clear points of comparison between The Bookman’s Tale and those novels. The subtitle of Charlie Lovett’s newest book is A Novel of Obsession, a descriptive that could be applied to the protagonists of all three stories.

Mr. Lovett, as a bibliophile and former antiquarian bookseller himself, seems to assume a like obsession in his readers. Books are described both passionately and lovingly throughout his novel, as they are throughout the comparative novels. All three are meticulously researched and span generations. All three novels hop from the past to the present and everywhere between.

But those likenesses do not tell the entire tale, nor do they make Mr. Lovett’s work a pale imitator of those popular books.

Mr. Lovett might circle 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 wends 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.

The most important difference, though, lies in the 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.

One aspect in which this novel struggles is with time jumps. They are integral to building the suspense Mr. Lovett wants to create; but it is unfortunate that in transitions from 1995 England, to 1982 North Carolina, to Victorian England, and back to Elizabethan England, the narrative thread is sometimes difficult to pick up again.

The bibliophile who is careful and who can get past that small failing, however, is in for a treat.